THERE ARE NO two ways about it. Inspector Harry Callahan is one tough hombre. He established that image in Dirty Harry and reinforced it in Magnum Force. Now, in The Enforcer, with his reputation safe, he lets you see a little more of him. Nothing that probably wasn't there all along, nothing that is even a little hard to believe. You always knew he had a soft streak under that hard-as-nails exterior. It's just that you never really expected him to let anyone know. He is still tough, although a little more believable.
The Enforcer's plot is agonizingly similar to its predecessors. Big trouble is brewing in San Francisco and all of San Francisco's finest are unable to stop it. Enter Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), the cop whose record of solved cases is equalled only by the list of brutality complaints filed against him. Ninety minutes, umpteen bodies and two or three episodes of debauchery later, the case is solved and the Bay City is safe once again. The particulars vary from flick to flick (the enemies were crooked cops in Magnum Force, young revolutionaries in The Enforcers), but the cliched plot remains the same.
But wait. People will fall for the old stock-plot trick once, never twice. Voila, a new ingredient. Harry's getting soft. Not on the crooks, mind you, they still get their just deserts. On himself. That's right, there's a woman in this one, and Harry falls for her (and she for him). As if to underscore the new factor of emotional involvement as opposed to simple animal passion, the usual scenes of sexual conquest are conspicuous only by their absence. The substitutes, however, are much better than the originals. The scene where Harry tells his partner, Inspector Moore (Tyne Daly), (much to his initial dismay) that "a guy could do a lot worse than having you for a partner" is a development in Harry's character of considerable dimensions. You can see it coming a mile away, but it is still a big event when it comes.
Still, like all Eastwood films, The Enforcer is permeated with explicit violence. In the course of the story innumerable people are shot, knifed, burned and run over. Unfortunately, the people who form the market for these movies have demonstrated time and time again that violence sells. As long as moviegoers support violent films, the genre will flourish.
If you can stand the violence, The Enforcer has some great action scenes. In an opening sequence reminiscent of the great pilot impersonation in the beginning of Magnum Force, Harry shoots three hold-up men who are holding four customers hostage in a liquor store. The excitement comes when he takes them by surprise, delivering their requested getaway car through the front of the store at high speed, and taking a blast from a double-barrel 12-gauge through the windshield on the way. After this subtle entrance, he miraculously picks off the bad guys in the time it would take you to say ".44 magnum" three times, while leaving the innocents unscathed.
Although scenes like these occur in all three Dirty Harry films, it seems they lead to a different end in The Enforcer. Dirty Harry and Magnum Force were unadulterated vehicles for themes like "might makes right" and "violence is a great deterrent to crime." The Enforcer, however, can be interpreted as leading to a different conclusion. The revolutionaries, after kidnapping the Mayor of San Francisco and demanding ransom, have holed up in--you guessed it--Alcatraz. Harry and partner arrive, and after an extended gunfight and hide-and-seek game the only survivors are Harry and the Mayor, a pompous, self-serving fool. As he dusts himself off after his brushes with death, the Mayor promises Harry that "There will be a letter of commendation in this for you." Harry drops the bazooka with which he has dispatched the last kidnapper and walks ever so slowly back to the side of his fallen partner. The moral: even though excessive violence did save hizzoner and finish off the kidnappers, the death of Inspector Moore and other innocents reveals the fact that violence by nature is uncontrollable. The costs are too high to be justified by the benefits derived. The moral is underlined by the closing scene in which a helicopter arrives with the ransom money that might have saved the lives of both Moore and the Mayor.
Even with these refinements, The Enforcer still has enough violence to retain its mass appeal. Violence still wins out, and the criminals are painted not as dedicated ideological revolutionaries but as the debris of society, turning to terrorism as a last resort. All the people they kill are the good guys, while Harry & Co.'s victims are the bad guys. And Harry still retains that smug irritating demeanor and quick wit that has endeared him to millions.
With a conclusion more clearly condemning the waste and immortality of violence, The Enforcer might have been a significant film. But as it stands, with a moral you have to hallucinate to see, it becomes just another Clint Eastwood flick that you forget about the week after you see it.