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Enforcer, The (1976)

The Dirty Harry Series - #3

Anybody call for a ventilator?
Them be some violent thought bubbles...

Genre: Action Crime Drama Thriller Serial

Starring: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby; For A Few Dollars More), Tyne Daly ("Cagney & Lacey";"Judging Amy")

Directed By: James Fargo (Every Which Way But Loose; Forced Vengeance)


Overview: A group of war veterans turned terrorists demand two million dollars before they start causing mayhem throughout the city. Harry Callahan's on the case, but he's stuck with a partner he may just not be able to trust - a woman.

What I love most about movies is what I learn from them.  First, the living, breathing past: Whether it's a contemporary look at Times Square in 1933, or a 1976 San Francisco as is the case with The Enforcer, you can appreciate an old movie for what it once was and enjoy that veneered glimpse of the past with that hint of cultural context,  even if the film is nothing more than a (solid cop-action) formula rehashed for a third time.

What The Enforcer left me with more than anything was the subtext of the 70s look into breaking the glass ceiling that saw women join the ranks in the front lines of the police force.

A little background to the scene below: We all know that 'Dirty' Harry Callahan represents the Alpha Male, a hateful near-vigilante.  After a dispute with his captain for his conduct that saved innocents while causing copious amounts of property damage, Harry is bumped down from Homicide to Personnel, a transfer he immediately objects to: Personnel? That's for assholes!

When Harry steps into the interview room the next day, he sits next to a couple male members of the Board and a Victorianly-stiff grey-haired lady sitting off to the side: 

Board Examiner: You're late, Callahan...We have 50 officers to test.
Callahan: For how many vacancies?
Board Examiner: Eight. Five men and three women promoted to inspector in this group.
Callahan: Three women?
Ms. Grey: Do you object, inspector?
Callahan: Now who might you be?
Ms. Grey: Ms. Grey, from the mayor's staff.
Board Examiner: She's to monitor the exams. This is Inspector Callahan.
Ms. Grey: Yes, I know something of him. And I'd like to tell you the mayor's plan is to bring this department into the mainstream of twentieth-century thought.
Callahan: How does he figure to do that?
Ms. Grey: For one thing, His Honor intends to broaden participation for women in the police force.
Callahan: Well, that sounds very stylish.
Ms. Grey: He also said something about winnowing the Neanderthals out of the department.
Board Examiner: Well, we better move along. Next applicant.  Officer Moore? This is the final stage in the examination. It's an informal test to measure your ability to think on your feet, Your reaction to stress, pressure, your ability to use the law in a hypothetical situation... How long on the force?
Moore played by Tyne Daly, (below):  Nine years.
Board Examiner: What department?
Moore: Mainly Personnel and Records. [Pause as we see Callahan's disdain]
Callahan: ...Officer Moore, tell us about your greatest felony arrest.
Moore: I've never made a felony arrest.
Callahan: Well, tell us about your best misdemeanor arrest.
Moore: I've never made a misdemeanor arrest either.
Callahan [angry]: What gives you the right to be an inspector when men have been busting their asses on the streets for 15 years!
Ms. Grey: 'Women stay home', is that what you're saying?
Callahan: You think this is an encounter group? What will she do if someone points a gun and says, "Hit the deck"?!
Ms. Grey: You're trying to fail this candidate, aren't you?
Callahan: If she fails there, she gets her ass blown off!
Moore: It's my ass!
Callahan: And my hard luck. Out there you'll have a partner. You get blown away, he does too! That's some price to pay for being stylish! ... Hypothetical situation, huh? All right, I'm standing on the street corner, and Mrs. Grey there comes up and propositions me. She says if I come home with her, for $5 she'll put on an exhibition with a Shetland pony...
Ms. Grey: If this is your idea of humor, Inspector...
Board Examiner: All right, what are you trying to do here, Callahan?
Callahan: I'm just trying to find out if anybody in this room knows what the hell law is being broken, besides cruelty to animals.
Moore: That's a conspiracy, title 7-182-1 of the California penal code. Conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is a felony...

By far this is the best scene in the whole film because rather than merely following the action cop formula, we get a dramatic glimpse into years of frustration and pride in the double-edge sword that was/is affirmative action.

Now as is typical with the Dirty Harry saga, his last partner is somehow replaced with a new one, and as is predictable, the sub-plot of The Enforcer is about how he deals with being paired up with poor Officer Moore, a not-so-rugged cop chasing crooks in high heels - a perfect role for Tyne Daly who later went on to be Lacey of "Cagney and Lacey"

In many ways The Enforcer forgot what made the Dirty Harry atmosphere great. Yes, one-liners are what every guy looks for in Harry Callahan but with Moore running around in her skirt and her green rookieness this film tips the scales into what could easily be called a comedy. Great dialogue yes, but the fear and drama of Dirty Harry's Scorpio and Magnum Force's vigilantes is lost, drowning in the comic subplot that overshadows it.  As we watch the story unfold - the standard investigation pointing to a Vietnam-vet terrorist group that leads to a final showdown - we more than realize this is not meant to be intelligent or original.  When looking at the other side of the coin, a force of social upheaval is being mocked when it could have been nurtured to create a greater development of character dynamic, not to mention being a message that could have had a little part in advancing equality. 

But there's the rub.  It's 1976.  Was this angle written as a sign of the times, a comment by opponents of affirmative action? That's for you to decide I guess, since The Enforcer is more about the bad guys than the dames.

That's right lady, I CAN see your house right through here, now watch!
That's right lady, I CAN see your house right through here, now watch!

Overall Rating: 76% (You Brought 'Er, YOU Force' Er)
Aftertaste:

I liked The Enforcer. It's nice seeing LAW rockets and scenes in a run-down, defunct Alcatraz.  No it's not 'cinema' but it's Hollywood enough.

Another thing this taught me is how impressed I was with Girfriend of Squish when she said, "I'm really liking these Dirty Harry movies! What's next?"

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