At long last, I'm finally getting around to continuing my look at the Dirty Harry films. I covered the first one a while back and now I fully intend to get through the other four.
The second entry in the Dirty Harry series is my favorite of the five. The action is great, the story is interesting (courtesy of writers John Milius and Michael Cimino) and the cast is entertainingly eclectic. Let's take a closer look.
- I love the plot conceit of the maverick cop going up against a death squad inside the SFPD. It works both as a sort of thumbing of the nose to the critics of the first movie (as in "No, these guys are frigging fascists! Our guy is just an asshole.") and on a more base level, as an action movie story.
- I like how the film, like many 70's action films, takes the time to tell its story. Clint isn't seen for the first ten minutes and this gives us time to set up the vigilante squad rather nicely. I also enjoy how instead of being snarling loons with badges, they are well mannered and soft-spoken loons, two of whom are played by future TV stars Robert Urich and David Soul as well as Tim Matheson. They are quite brilliant villains. In a way, they are creepier than Andy Robinson in the first film, simply because their evil is more subtle. This contrasts quite nicely with what vicious killers they are as the bloodshed is ramped up a bit here. The film ends up being more violent than the first and quite a bit more brutal as well. I don't think it was entirely necessary but it certainly has an effect.
- The real gem in the supporting cast is Hal Holbrook, however. Not sure if this was the first time he ended up being the surprise villain but it sure as hell wouldn't be the last. He does some pretty nice work here, at first being the standard authority figure who has to put up with Callahan but once he is revealed as the villain, he adopts the same soft-spoken manner the killer cops have and the effect is rather chilling.
- The rest of the cast is fine with Felton Perry making the most of his role as Harry's latest partner and Mitchell Ryan is effective as a red herring Harry at first suspects might be the killer cop.
- The film also rather neatly sidesteps the usual criticism these films tend to get (not that the critics were stopped by it) by simply being a fun, over the top action film with less overt political content. There's a little (this is a 70's action movie, after all) but for the most part, it's just something to cut away too between action scenes.
- The action is quite nice as well with Harry's obligatory "stopping a crime" scene taking place on an airplane being hijacked. Harry poses as the pilot here and the end result is about what you would expect. We even get a second one twenty minutes later as Perry is menaced during a robbery. The other action highlight is the climax which sees Harry pick off the death squad one at a time before confronting Holbrook. It's a solid climax and ends the film on a solid note.
- Harry is more or less the same as he was in the first film which is probably good as the similarities between him and the bad guys makes the film work as well as it does. Clint is good as usual, especially when politely turning down an offer to join the bad guys. The way he bluntly states his moral code at the end is quite nice as well.