The Enforcer was the third of five films in which Eastwood plays ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan, the tough San Francisco vigilante cop who is a law unto himself. Eastwood was set to direct The Enforcer, but having just directed the western, The Outlaw Josey Wales he decided that he would have been taking on too much as he was editing Wales during the films preparation. Instead the direction was given to James Fargo who was set to be the assistant director. Eastwood would not go on to direct a Dirty Harry picture until Sudden Impact in 1983. The original Dirty Harry (1971) was directed by Don Siegel, a masterful director of crime films in which the rogue cop (who has a habit of losing partners) is using all means necessary to hunt down a serial killer sniper terrorizing SF. The second film, Magnum Force (1973) has Callahan trying to unroot a band of extreme vigilante motorcycle cops taking the law into their own hands and committing a series of targeted assassinations, creating a moral and ethical dilemma about vigilantism with so-called law enforcers taking the law into their own hands and Harry Callahan’s own methods of law enforcement. This film came out the same year as the explosive crime and corruption film, Serpico starring Al Pacino.
The seventies were for sure turning into a decade of very violent cinema. By contrast The Enforcer has some rather comical psycho terrorists made up of disgruntled Vietnam war veterans called The Peoples Revolutionary Strike Force (PRSF) attempting to create chaos and ‘shake things up’. Going against his superiors and calls for dismissal for his “heavy use of force” Harry uses his contacts in a black revolutionary movement (based off the Black Panthers) to supply him with information about the underground killers and enact his own brand of justice. This time Harry is also united with a new partner (in this film he goes through two partners), a rookie female cop which inspires plenty of misogynistic remarks from Callahan until he learns to respect her. The PRSF are a rather cartoon assortment of killers and this third installment of the franchise is already starting to look tired, but once again beneath what looks like another mainstream exploitation addition to violent seventies cinema, politics plays an important part. As already hinted at in Dirty Harry and Magnum Force it is questions of moral and ethics these films raise, but The Enforcer is more overtly political drawing on the violence and the revolutionary fervour of the times (as Coogan’s Bluff in 1968 drew on the darker side of sixties counter-culture). The black revolutionary group, Uhuru are clearly modeled off the Black Panthers, while more controversially and darker the disgruntled Vietnam vets are based off the Symbionese Liberation Army who had kidnapped the heiress Patty Hearst who went onto notoriety by joining this militant group of thieves.
The script was written by two San Franciscan students, Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr who had obviously written the part for Clint. The story was originally called ‘Moving Target’ and the writers had trouble getting hold of Eastwood, so therefore they had to leave the script at his local, The Bear Inn in his hometown of Carmel. Eastwood liked what he read and proceeded to get the film into production between Warner Brothers and his own company Malpaso. The film began production under the uninspired shooting title of ‘Dirty Harry III’ before being renamed ‘The Enforcer’ (allegedly Eastwood liked the title after seeing the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name).
Tyne Daly was cast as Kate Moore, Clint’s new rookie female assistant who would start to unearth a gentler side to the snarling embittered cop. This was an early role for her and the positive feedback about her role led to calls for her to go on to star as Detective Mary Beth Lacey in the hit early eighties TV show ‘Cagney and Lacey’. Daly is understated here and puts in a good performance who subtlety goes on to match Harry and as a rookie tries to keep up with her wild partner and garnered plenty of praise from many feminist critics. Eastwood was impressed by Daly and wanted a woman as a sparring partner to his macho character and in this sense the film succeeds because it is not on an obvious level that the female character tries to steal Callahan’s thunder and upstage him but converts him on a much more human level. Other characters returned to the franchise such as Harry Guardino as Lieutenant Bressler and John Mitchum as Frank DiGiorgio (who as his partner is killed off in this one). A new character that is inserted is Bradford Dillman as Callahan’s captain and the man exasperated by his wild cop underling. Like other Eastwood films it is set in his beloved San Francisco (although Eastwood himself is a long time resident of the more tranquil Carmel), there is something of the travelogue here with many key scenes shot in Mill Valley, Candlestick Park, home of the SF Giants, while the finale in the former prison of Alcatraz, already by the seventies a listed historical building.
The film and in particular Eastwood’s performance was heavily slated by the critics and despite the criticisms about the film being rather pedestrian it would become Eastwood’s biggest box-office success to date. On top of this the film also faced heavy criticism for its excessive display of violence, something the seventies certainly since Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1968) was becoming more extreme and continued to do so in the uber-macho posturing of the eighties, although it became more cartoon-like during that decade. Some of the later Eastwood grizzled characters of such films as Heartbreak Ridge through to Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino began to emerge here (there are plenty of expletives and “stick it up your arse” comments). The western genre is never too far away from Eastwood and Harry Callahan does come off as a somewhat no-nonsense sheriff in a lawless town – a comparison that could be made for many of Eastwood’s films, as if this is not a man who belongs in this time but from a by-gone era. The Enforcer has dated somewhat now and still, as I have already asserted looks violent, but as always with Eastwood he entertains.