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Film / Magnum Force

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"A man's got to know his limitations."
Harry Callahan

Magnum Force is a 1973 film directed by Ted Post, starring Clint Eastwood.

It is the second film in the Dirty Harry series. "Dirty" Harry Callahan (Eastwood) has been assigned to the stakeout squad, but when mobster Carmine Ricca is murdered, Harry insists on inserting himself in the case. Ricca, who was killed just after he was acquitted in a criminal trial on a technicality, isn't the only bad guy to get whacked. Another mobster is killed at a pool party. Then, a pimp. Harry soon realizes what he's up against: some renegade cops who have formed a death squad.

Hal Holbrook plays Briggs, Da Chief. Post previously directed Clint Eastwood in Hang 'Em High. Magnum Force was co-written by future directors John Milius and Michael Cimino.

The next film in the Dirty Harry series was The Enforcer.


  • Anyone Can Die: A good chunk of the cast are dead by the end of the film. Only Harry, Sunny, and DiGiorgio make it out alive.
  • Arc Words: Repeated several times over, which explores the lengths Harry is willing to go to in his war on crime, as well as setting up a supposedly similar group of rookie cops who go to worse lengths than Harry.
    Harry Callahan: Man's got to know his limitations.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Invoked when Harry delivers his Kirk Summation.
    Harry Callahan: That's just fine, but how does murder fit in? You know, when police start becoming their own executioners, where's it gonna end? Huh, Briggs? Pretty soon, you'll start executing people for jaywalking, and executing people for traffic violations. Then you end up executing your neighbor 'cause his dog pisses on your lawn.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Death by drinking drain cleaner would take much longer and be much more horrific than shown in the film, where it's nearly the equivalent of Instant Death Bullet.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Exaggerated with the pimp who goes as far as sitting on a revolver before he gets pulled over.
  • Asshole Victim: A gangster who ordered a union boss murdered along with his family and a sadistic pimp are killed by one of the vigilante cops, along with two more gangsters who don't have their crimes shown (though doubtless qualify as well given what they mention of their activities).
  • Ax-Crazy: The vigilante cops, they are batshit insane when it comes to killing despite their Knight Templar intentions. They are basically Ghostfaces with badges and Knight Templar vigilante motives.
  • Bad Boss: Even when two of his vigilante officers (Davis and Sweet) join Harry to arrest a gangster, Lt. Briggs still tips the gangster off, resulting in the death of Sweet. This shows that, even though they believe in his cause, Briggs thinks of them as just as expendable as the potential witnesses they eliminate. Sure, Briggs initially tried to dissuade Harry from taking them, but still.
  • Bond Gun Barrel: A tongue-in-cheek spoof of this trope happens during the opening credits, in which Harry Callahan's .44 Magnum substitutes the gunbarrel.
  • Bond One-Liner:
    • After Davis overshoots Harry on his bike and crashes into the bay, Harry notes that "Briggs was right. You guys don't have enough experience."
    • After Briggs gets blown up in his car, Harry says, "Man's got to know his limitations."
  • Bros Before Hoes: McCoy's ex-wife wants to know why Harry never made a pass at her. The implied offer makes Harry uncomfortable and he leaves.
  • Butt-Monkey: Charlie McCoy, he's frustrated at his utter helplessness of begrudgingly serving under a revolving door of the city's justice system, his indifferent wife divorces him at being unable to cope with his issues and tries to cheat on him with his friend Harry, is initially suspected as a Red Herring for the vigilante killings by his friend Harry and gets killed by one of the vigilante cops for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Car Fu: Harry disposes of Grimes by ramming his motorcycle head-on with a Ford Galaxie 500.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Lt. Briggs mentions that he has never once taken his weapon out of its holster. When he does, it's to give The Reveal that he's the Big Bad.
    • The bomb that gets placed in Harry's mailbox by the vigilantes is ultimately used by Harry to kill Briggs.
  • Conversation Cut:
    Callahan: [over the phone] I'm not on Homicide anymore. I'm a Stakeout man now, remember?
    Briggs: [in person] Not anymore, Callahan. You and your partner are back on Homicide.
  • Cop Killer: One of the vigilante trio murders a fellow cop who stumbles upon him leaving after murdering one major gangster along with two other people. Harry ends up killing all of them in self-defense, making him technically a cop killer as well.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • A pimp murders one of his girls for not giving him all of her money by pouring drain cleaner down her throat. For his comeuppance, see Asshole Victim above.
    • While this man was one of the vigilante cops, Harry kills one of them by hitting him in the jugular repeatedly.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Harry kills Grimes by running him over with his car and kills Astrachan WITH HIS BARE HANDS using karate blows to the neck.
  • Da Chief: Lt. Briggs is a subversion in that he's the Big Bad.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: Complete with a dramatic chord on the soundtrack, as the hooker's hand flops out of the cab after her pimp kills her.
  • Deliberately Bad Example: The vigilante squad, who shoot innocent bystanders, witnesses and a fellow motorcycle cop. Done to avoid Strawman Has a Point.
  • Depraved Bisexual: The mobster killed by Davis has both a young girl and a young boy in his bed.
  • Dirty Cop: The vigilante cops, who carry out the execution of criminals who escape the justice system and give zero shits about who gets killed in the crossfire.
  • Dirty Coward: The cabbie who does nothing but run away as the pimp is assaulting his prostitute in the back of said cab. The pimp then murders the prostitute.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • The vigilante cops pull over and shoot criminals who escape the justice system. It borders on this at times: in the opening scene, after Ricca gets acquitted, the cop who pulls his car over shoots not only him, but also his driver, bodyguard and attorney.
    • It's made clear in the scene where Harry, Briggs, and Avery are in the morgue looking at the various bodies of the vigilante cops' victims, as Avery notes that some of the shooting victims committed such crimes as truck hijacking, gambling, narcotics, and prostitution—though that's implied to be due to being involved in organised crime. However not only mobsters are being killed, but people who hang around with them like the women at the pool party.
  • Euphemism Buster: Ironically it's Briggs who provides this — when Callahan says he's busy entertaining a young lady, Briggs bluntly tells him to put his pants back on.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: After losing to Davis in the final of the police department's pistol shooting competition, Harry asks Davis if he can try out his gun. He does, hitting five targets out of six. He even notes that he missed one, while Davis tells him that he'll get used to it. Harry comes back that night and recovers the sixth round, which he had deliberately put into a doorframe on the range so he can match it to rounds recovered from the murders.
  • Everyone Has Standards: "Dirty" Harry Callahan may merrily tap-dance the line between being a Cowboy Cop and being a Rabid Cop, but he has always made sure to just shoot the crooks he hunts down and nobody else, and only when the crooks refuse to surrender in an armed confrontation. The death squad and their indiscriminate tactics completely and utterly disgust him.
  • Evil Is Sexy: the vigilante cops are young, clean cut, handsome, ride powerful motorcycles, carry Magnum revolvers and wear tight black leather police uniforms complete with cool sunglasses. In any other film they would be the attractive heroes. According to writer John Milius before this film no one in the police force wanted to be a motorcycle cop but afterwards the role became much more popular.
  • Fanservice Extra: The bikini-clad and topless ladies at a mobster's pool party. Becomes Drop Dead Gorgeous when the ladies are killed along with everyone else by a machine-gun wielding motorcycle cop. (One of them is played by Suzanne Somers, who would soon become a star on Three's Company.)
  • Freudian Slip: While berating Harry for his Cowboy Cop antics, Briggs almost states that “people are guilty until proven innocent.” This serves as Foreshadowing that Briggs is the leader of the vigilante cops.
  • Glasses Pull: Briggs does this when Harry tells him that the killer is a traffic cop.
  • Good Policing, Evil Policing: Detective Harry Callahan is known for shooting large holes in criminals, but only those that present an immediate danger to himself or other citizens. Callahan grouses about incorrigible criminals that weasel through the justice system, but he never goes so far as to play God. However, three uniform officers on the force are playing God: summarily executing perps that they deem incorrigible. This corruption turns out to go all the way up to Lieutenant Briggs. As Callahan puts it: "A man's got to know his limitations."
  • Guile Hero: Harry knows how difficult it will be to expose a bunch of vigilante killer cops so rather than charge in with wild accusations, he instead starts to collect evidence that he can use to convince his superiors.
  • Guilt by Association: Despite the death squad having good intentions, they are The Unfettered when it comes to killing anyone even innocent victims who gets in their way of their executions of criminals, showing that without a sense of restraint, the crooked cops used the vigilante initiative to heartlessly satisfy their blood lust without regard for collateral damage.
  • Hand Cannon: Harry's Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum returns whilst the four rookie cops use the less powerful although still extremely potent Colt Python .357 Magnum. In the shooting range scene Harry comments he uses a "light special' load in his gun to give him "less recoil and more control". According to John Milius in his DVD commentary this has been misinterpreted for decades, many thinking it means Harry uses the less powerful .44 Special round when in fact it means he uses a specially prepared full power Magnum load firing a slightly lighter bullet.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Before killing Lou Guzman and his entourage, Officer John Davis attaches a silencer to his Colt Python revolver. Not only would it be completely ineffective (very few revolvers are designed to work with suppressors, and the Python is most emphatically not one of them), the way it's attached (just slid over the barrel) it would fly right off.
  • Hunting the Rogue: Detective Callahan deduce that three rookie cops have decided to become judge, jury and executioner to the various criminals they encounter. While Callahan is a Cowboy Cop not in the department's best graces, he's still Lawful Good, as opposed to the rogue cops who've taken to Playing God. "A man's got to know his limitations."
  • Hypocrite: Briggs has never pulled his gun once in his entire police career. He has his minions do that for him, and when he finally does it himself, it's to reveal that he's the one behind the death squad.
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: Harry is just hanging out at the airport when he stumbles into a hijacking situation. The hijackers want an "international pilot." Harry says "May I make a suggestion?" Cut to Harry, in a pilot's uniform, walking out to the plane.
  • Impersonating an Officer: The assumption by the investigating detectives is that the killings are the work of a hitman disguised as a policeman, which has happened before, and not the work of actual cops. Only Harry suspects the truth (and even he gets the culprit and motivation wrong, initially suspecting a colleague who is cracking up).
  • Implied Death Threat: Harry deliberately shoots a police officer target during the shooting competition to let the vigilante cops know he's on to them. They confront him later with the With Us or Against Us trope. When Harry makes it clear he's not with them they just drive off, but it's clear the lines have been drawn for a future lethal confrontation.
  • Intro Dump: Callahan conveniently meets the four cops who turn out to make up the death squad while they are all taking target practice, allowing all four to introduce themselves to him and the audience.
  • Killer Cop: A squad of motorcycle cops have turned vigilante and are going out executing criminals who evade the justice system.
  • Kinda Busy Here: While Callahan is breaking into his own mailbox rather than just using the key, a tenant comes up and starts complaining...until Callahan removes the bomb he finds inside. Then he tries to call Smith and warn him, but the latter ignores the ringing phone in favor of opening his mailbox and gets killed.
  • Knight Templar: The vigilante cops, to a T. Even if their motives are understandable, they have little concern for collateral damage, as evidenced in their exchange with Harry:
    Harry: You "heroes" killed a dozen people this week. What are you going to do next week?
    Davis: (flatly) Kill a dozen more.
    • They've no problem killing police officers either — Davis shoots Charlie McCoy to Leave No Witnesses. Briggs sends an anonymous call to the gangsters telling them that hitmen dressed as cops are coming to kill them, hoping they'll get killed in the ensuing shoot-out and likely Callahan too. Sweet dies instead.
      Smith: Yeah, but Sweet died today!
      Callahan: Sweet was sacrificed. What's more important is if I'm right, I'll be sacrificed. They've gotta figure I told you, which means you'll be sacrificed.
  • Lack of Empathy: Lt. Briggs hardly sheds a tear when Harry kills his vigilante cops, saying he can find more to replace them. He also considers Officer Sweet's death a necessary sacrifice.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Briggs declares that he's going to let the System that Callahan is defending take care of him for murdering three cops. Instead Briggs gets blown up by the bomb that was planted to kill Callahan.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: A variation where the killers commit their murders with their faces obscured by their sunglasses and police motorcycle helmets.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Some of the other officers suspect that the vigilante cops are gay for each other, given how much time they spend together. Harry notes that if everyone else was as good a shot as them, he wouldn't care if everyone in the department was gay.
  • My God, What Did I Almost Do?: After Harry defuses the bomb in his mailbox, the look on Sunny’s face, as she was about to open it, says it all.
  • Nausea Dissonance: Harry is called to the scene of a murder with his partner. One of the cops there comments on how the inside of the victim's car is just filled with all kinds of brain parts (the audience doesn't see this) and generally goes into the most gross bodies he's seen. Harry is unaffected but his partner looks at the body and then turns to go puke.
  • Off on a Technicality: It is this trope that leads the vigilante cops to go after criminals who escaped the justice system.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The murderous pimp has pulled out his wallet and a $100 bill for Sweet. He sees a glimpse of Sweet's revolver raised. His eyes widen as he instinctively grabs for his hidden revolver, but is shot by Sweet before he gets a chance.
    • Callahan is suspicious that his mailbox has been tampered with and doesn't open it. Then he realizes that Sunny said she was going to get his mail, rushes downstairs and yanks her away from the mailbox just in time.
  • One-Steve Limit:
  • Out-of-Character Alert: When Briggs pulls out his gun, the one that he says he's never used once in his career, it clicks for Harry that Briggs is with the very cops he's hunting down. Granted, the fact said gun was pointed at him probably cleared things up.
    Harry: Your gun's out of its holster, Briggs. First time?
  • Police Brutality: The corrupt vigilante cops enjoy pulling this. As Harry says, "A man's got to know his limitations."
  • Psycho for Hire: The uniformed vigilante cops act as this for the Big Bad Briggs.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Just imagine the fallout of Briggs' conspiracy, even if it remained contained.
  • Rabid Cop: A whole group of them, in fact!
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Harry starts the movie in the Stakeout Squad, presumably because of his actions in the previous movie.
  • Red Herring: Harry initially suspects Charlie McCoy of the murders. This doesn't seem unreasonable since the early film establishes that he's undergoing a mental breakdown (even attempting suicide).
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: As with Harry's Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, the death squad has been known to carry cool revolvers too, the Colt Python .357 magnum.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Mob boss Palancio kills Sweet under the assumption he's one of the vigilante killers running around dressed as cops and is there to kill him. Sweet actually is one of the vigilante killers, but he's actually at Palancio's place legitimately with the rest of the police force to serve a warrant on him. One shootout later and Palancio ends up impaled on a girder courtesy of Harry for his mistake.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: John Milius based his script on the "death squads" employed by the Brazilian military dictatorship, which received heavy press coverage in the early '70s; Harry makes a fleeting reference to them late in the film. In particular, Milius demonstrates his knowledge by alluding to the fact that, in contrast to some other Latin American death squads, their Brazilian equivalent were analogous to the motorcycle cops inasmuch as they were less concerned with punishing explicitly political offenses than meting out vigilante justice for perceived crimes, and the resulting extrajudicial executions were often carried out by off-duty policemen.
  • Sacrificial Lion:
    • When vigilante officer Sweet is killed during a shootout during an attempted arrest, Harry believes his death was a necessary sacrifice to get himself and the arrestee killed. He even lampshades it twice; once directly, and once when he notes that Sweet was killed with the first shot.
    • At the end, when the other vigilante cops are killed, their leader, Lt. Briggs says he can use their “murders” to prosecute Harry.
    • McCoy's death at Davis's hands is what causes Harry to pinpoint who the real killers are.
  • Salt and Pepper: Harry with new partner Smith.
  • Satchel Charge: the gangsters and their molls at the pool party are finished off by a satchel charge. However the crew misunderstood John Milius' script, he meant a standard military satchel charge in a canvas bag. Instead the bomb is in a school style leather bag.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: The whole opening credits play as Harry's hand holds a gun pointing stage left. After the credits are over, the gun points to the camera, Harry notes that it's a .44 Magnum and "the most powerful gun in the world," he repeats his "Do you feel lucky" line from the first movie, and then he pulls the trigger.
  • Shadow Archetype: The death squad essentially represents what Harry might be if he lost all sense of restraint.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Charlie McCoy, as he was an ex-marine like his friend Harry, possibly during the Korean War (much like his actor and Harry's actorinvoked Clint Eastwood).
  • Shooting Gallery: Harry is practicing in one of these. When he hears multiple gunshots he's not at all concerned, turns out other officers are also training and they meet up to chat. Later they compete in a police competition, and Harry had figured out they must be involved so he tries out one of their guns, one of the shots goes wide and he later recovers the bullet for evidence.
  • Shout-Out: Here's a weird one: Killer Cop "Red" Astrachan is named after a variety of apple. Weirder still is that he's not the only guy in an action series to have that distinction, and he isn't even the most famous.
  • Soft Water: Averted. Harry kills the last member of the death squad aside from Lt. Briggs in a motorcycle chase in which the killer cop overshoots and falls off the side of an aircraft carrier into the ocean. He dies on impact.
  • Stealth Insult
    Callahan: Well, you're a good man, Lieutenant. A good man always knows his limitations.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Harry kills the last two members of the Magnum Force by punching one repeatedly in the throat and forcing the other off the side of an aircraft carrier, causing him to fall into the ocean from a significant height and die on impact. Both methods of death are generally non-lethal in movies but have a good chance of being fatal in real life.
    • For that matter, the way the vigilante cops' scheme goes awry is pretty realistic. They do blow away some genuinely deserving people, like the murderous pimp or the various mob bosses, but several innocent people are caught in the crossfire, and Davis eventually shoots Charlie McCoy when he stumbles onto him at the scene of the crime.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Captain Avery forces Harry and Lt. Briggs to work together during the vigilante murders, even though they openly dislike each other.
  • These Hands Have Killed: The uniform cop at the store shootout is in a contemplative mood afterwards, saying "I never shot a man."
  • Tragic Hero: Charlie McCoy, especially in regards to his situation in the film.
  • Uriah Gambit: Briggs declares that the killings are mob related and orders a massive wave of arrests. Harry is sent to arrest Frank Palancio, a known mob hitman, who receives a mysterious phone call saying they're going to be hit by men dressed as cops. After what happened to Carmine Ricca, Palancio isn't inclined to take chances and opens fire when Sweet knocks on the door. Harry doesn't have to be told that he was set up by someone who's willing to regard the death of a fellow cop as Necessarily Evil.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: The prostitute in the taxi cab pulls double duty on this trope, hiding large sums of money in both her bra and panties. Then her pimp arrives to shake her down (knowing all of her secret compartments) before killing her for trying to hold back some of it. Later the pimp tucks a small revolver between his legs when a motorcycle cop pulls him over, but even then he's taken by surprise when the cop turns out to be a Vigilante Man and he's shot before he can reach for it.
  • Vigilante Injustice: The Big Bad Ensemble of this film is a tiny squad of cops who have decided to murder criminals that escaped the law (and the ones who appear on screen as targets are huge examples of the Asshole Victim). However, the problem becomes that the cops are kill-happy maniacs perfectly willing to annihilate anybody who has the bad luck of standing right beside the criminal as collateral damage regardless of their own innocence or guilt, and anybody who tries to stop them (even fellow cops). It is also highly implied that the killer cops have been picked by the Big Bad, Captain Briggs, as his personal (expendable) hit team for future nefarious purposes. Harry Callahan even gives them a "The Reason You Suck" Speech early in the climax in which he sarcastically asks them how long is it going to take them to expand their vigilante act to target people who are only "criminals" in the broadest sense of the term, like those who let their dogs piss on someone else's lawn, and what they plan to do next week (after they killed a dozen people this one). The killer cops answer "we'll kill a dozen more".
  • Vigilante Militia: The gruff but honest detective Callahan investigates a series of murders wherein the victims are repeat felons. Callahan deduces correctly that a band of zealous rookie officers have decided to fight crime by acting as Judge, Jury, and Executioner as well as arresting officer. Made worse by the chief of the detective division knowingly covering for them.
  • We Have Reserves: Lt. Briggs makes clear after Callahan has killed all of his men that he can always recruit another death squad.
  • With Us or Against Us: As seen in the picture caption above, the vigilantes use this to try to convince Harry to join them.
    Harry: I'm afraid you've misjudged me.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Lt. Briggs pulls off one. After failing to recruit Harry to their vigilante death squad, the remaining members attempt to kill Harry, and all die as a result. Briggs pulls a gun on Harry, forcing him to surrender. Harry activates a bomb he found planted in his mailbox, killing Briggs. The fallout of this, despite their being dirty cops in a death squad, even if contained, would potentially be devastating for Harry, and he appears to have just barely gotten past it in The Enforcer.