The Enforcer (1976)

The 411 on the 415

The third Dirty Harry movie is the last from the 70's, and is there a more fitting way to say goodbye to that decade than with a revolution? Our favorite renegade policeman faces two formidable opponents here. First and foremost a group of militant revolutionaries, who plan to blackmail the city of San Fran through threats of violence. Second, Harry must face off against gender equality, as he breaks in a new partner: Kate Moore (Tyne Daly)! That's right, she's one of them females.

Word on the street

"It's a war isn't it? I guess I never really understood that."

"She wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log."

Rap sheet

There is a formula to some film series. You expect a teaser action sequence at the beginning of a James Bond movie, for example, and that's the way it should be, but I get annoyed by the constant need to reaffirm Dirty Harry's bad boy credentials at the start of every one of these films, with a disconnected action scene. At the start of The Enforcer Harry arrives at a hostage situation in a liquor store. He drives his car through the storefront, jumps out and kills everyone, with complete disregard for the hostages' safety, and the fact that he should have been killed four times over by the bad guys. It's just too cartoonish.

Once again the boss comes down hard on him - this time he's played by Mission: Impossible alumni Bradford Dillman - once again Harry is surprised that no one will tolerate his level of violence, once again he's transferred to another department. At this point, I'm pretty much out of patience with that routine. Oh, well. New viewers will have no trouble keeping up that's for sure.


Before we go through the familiar song and dance mentioned above, we get a cold open, introducing the bad guys: The People's Revolutionary Strike Force! They're fairly creepy, but not as effective as they should be, and the film only has itself to blame for that. Why, for example, does it feel the need to point out that only a few suckers in the group are true revolutionaries? The main guys are just playing along - they're really in it for the money. Seems like it would be way more scary with a band of true believers who would sacrifice anything for their cause. They steal rocket launchers and explosives! They bomb the effing police station! They even kidnap the mayor! These are potentially pretty horrifying events, and yet the film never quite manages to establish any kind of city-under-siege feeling, or any sense that there's an overarching goal to these acts.

Simply put: The film doesn't care enough about the bad guys to establish them as a threat. The bombing of the police station is almost a throwaway gag, while the subsequent chase for a silly pimp-looking suspect gets the full 5 minute handheld-jumping-over-roofs treatment, complete with jazz score and - this being the '70s - a brief stop at a porn film set. Even the final showdown, when Harry discovers that the bad guys are holed up in Alcatraz, feels a little underwhelming.

In the context of the Dirty Harry universe, the most interesting aspect of The Enforcer is the female touch. Early in the film, as punishment, Harry is called in to join a review board for new recruits. Naturally he gets very upset, when he learns that they plan to hire a specific number of women to the force. He gets even more upset, when the first candidate is a woman with zero experience.

Having Harry argue against women on the force is a good move. His observations aren't wrong, but neither is the allegation that he's a dinosaur. Forcing a character so defined by his masculinity to accept a woman as his equal is good drama. Perhaps that part of the story plays out a bit predictably, but it's still thoroughly enjoyable.


Tyne Daly is a good choice for the part of his new partner Kate Moore, and luckily the character isn't just there for show. Eventually Harry warms to her, they even manage to exchange a few harmless sexual innuendos, and she helps him at a crucial point in the investigation. She also gets to kill the second to last bad guy, and save the mayor! In the ultimate case of equal opportunity irony she also gets to die, same as every male partner Harry ever had.

The final image of the movie, Harry standing over her dead body, brings a welcomed sense of loss we rarely get to experience in these films. This one really stings.

Final report

The Enforcer is a step down from the second film, but it's still a lot of fun, and the new elements make it seem fresh. Clint Eastwood is always fun to watch, and challenging his macho image like this suits the character very well.

After three Dirty Harry movies in 5 years it's time for a break. It would be 7 years before he returned to the silver screen.

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