The Enforcer (1976) – Directed by James Fargo – Starring Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, Tyne Daly, DeVeren Bookwalter, John Mitchum, John Crawford, and Albert Popwell.
After the first two really good cop movies, THE ENFORCER presents the Dirty Harry franchise with its first stinker.
THE ENFORCER is the kind of movie that just sort of exists as a tired, would-be-forgotten film if it wasn’t for the connection to the Dirty Harry series. I own THE ENFORCER because it’s part of the Dirty Harry four-pack. There is, of course, five movies in the Dirty Harry franchise, but they don’t include THE DEAD POOL in this collection. I don’t know why that is – maybe it’s a studio thing or a rights thing – but if they’re going to forget that one of the Dirty Harry movies existed, I’ll nominate THE ENFORCER over DEAD POOL all day long.
DIRTY HARRY had Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) feeling he needed to step outside the system to bring justice for victims of crime. MAGNUM FORCE took Callahan and made him a defender (of sorts) of the system. But here in THE ENFORCER, Callahan is just a cop on a case with a rookie partner and a boss all up in his business. It’s a tired film that feels more like an episode of a TV series than a movie. It’s 30 minutes shorter than MAGNUM FORCE and really does feel like a bit of a money grab. There’s no passion here, no philosophical conflict. There’s good guys and bad guys and we might as well be back in the days when studios were producing 462 cheap Westerns a year.
The plot focuses on a group of criminals pretending to be a politically motivated, when all they really want is money. Their names are It Doesn’t Matter, I Don’t Care, Black Guy, Woman Who Dies, Woman Who Lives, and Other People.
By having them not care about the political issues they espouse to the cops and media, THE ENFORCER renders them solely as bad guys and robs the film of its potential conflicted policy. What if they really did believe that by stealing government weapons of destruction (which are being held at a facility less secure than I kept my Playboys when I was in high school) they could enact positive change in the world? That would create some tension in the film and make a subtle shift away from the philosophical questions being asked of cops and put it on the public. We don’t get that, unfortunately, because THE ENFORCER doesn’t want to think.
In the previous two films, Harry’s actions were largely justified for the audience, but this time around, he’s a petulant child thrashing about, causing damage, and acting like a spoiled brat.
He solves a hostage situation by driving his car through the front window of a shop on a city street. There are several gunmen and even more hostages inside, and the gunmen want a car so they can split. Harry gives them a car – his own, by crashing into the building and then getting out and shooting all the bad guys. It’s preposterous, and comes off as the act of a man who doesn’t give a sh*t anymore about anything. Having a nearly burned out Harry Callahan could have worked, too, but there’s nothing here to raise his spirits, to give back to him a sense of passion for his job. We start to see that though his bonding with his new partner, Officer Moore (Tyne Daly), but then she gets killed, too, so the end of the film sees a Callahan even more depressed than at the start.
After getting forced out of Homicide and into Personnel for that stunt, Harry shows up late for the new inspector interviews.
He pouts and grumbles about the Mayor’s decision to force women into the ranks of inspectors, but it’s him who’s causing the most potential future harm to his fellow cops by not being present for every interview. He can strut and stomp all he wants in this scene about how dumb it is for the Mayor to force women cops to move up the ranks when other cops with more experience will get denied, and there’s real meaning, real philosophy, to his way of thinking, but it all comes across as, “I don’t want women in my Boy’s Club.” Harry can barely be bothered to say, “This isn’t about women,” because deep down, that’s what it’s about for him far more than the experience issue.
As bland as ENFORCER is, it’s worth watching just for the performance of Tyne Daly, who’s wonderful throughout. Eager to prove herself, she continually proves herself to Callahan through the film, first with her brains and then later by shooting a bad guy (bad woman, really) who had the drop on Harry as he roughed up a priest who was defending the criminals. The film even gives Daly’s Officer Moore the glory of rescuing the Mayor from the Alcatraz prison where he was being held after his kidnapping, but just as she’s leaving the building, she yells for Harry to get out of the way of another gunman. Harry moves, she gets shot. Harry proves to us that he’s accepted Moore into the Boy’s Club by putting her life ahead of the Mayor’s; he tells her he’s going to get her out of there while the final bad guy is running away with his hostage, but she tells him no, and then she dies a death that would make Bugs Bunny proud.
THE ENFORCER is just a lazy, uninterested film. Watching it is like going out with a formerly impossibly hot woman who thinks all she had to do is show up and the bar and have guys buy her drinks all night. She’s putting in no effort and, truth be told, she doesn’t even want to be there. She’s just doing it because she doesn’t know what else to do. If you were to watch her all night, you’d see a flash or two of the old spark, but not enough to walk over there and buy her a drink.