The Enforcer (1976)

When it’s on: Wednesday, 20 June (10.35 pm)
Channel: ITV1
IMDb Link

The third instalment in the saga of Harry Callahan finds our man at his lowest ebb – dropped from Homicide following his ‘dirty’ methods at foiling a liquor store hold-up, and sidelined into Personnel. Whilst there, he takes part in a series of interviews for promotion within the San Francisco Police Force, learning to his horror that women are being actively considered for Inspector’s badges in order to tick some ‘equal rights’ box. One such female is Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), feisty and spirited yet lacking in experience. Callahan knows she won’t last a minute on the mean streets and makes his point to the interview panel with typical tact and subtlety. When his Homicide partner is killed by a terrorist group made up of angry Vietnam veterans, Harry goes after them, bent on bringing his own brand of justice to bear, only to find – shock, horror – that his new buddy is none other than Ms Moore…

After the not too shabby Magnum Force, The Enforcer is a real step down in terms of quality. The nuances of a plot involving police officers turning into vigilantes – and dispensing the violent ends to bad people that Harry should approve of – are nowhere to be seen. Instead, it’s by the numbers fare, made with the bottom line in mind and seeking naught but to entertain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the constant feeling of deja vu one gets when watching The Enforcer, the sense of having seen it all before, and done better, can’t be avoided, and that is a worry. The film goes for easy laughs, pairing the misogynist’s misogynist with a young female Inspector for nothing more than the craic, for the humour value of Clint’s punchline ‘Marvellous,’ which is whispered through gritted teeth. And when Kate turns out to be more than a heel, saving Harry’s life, it isn’t even a bit surprising.

If the film has a saving grace, it’s in the performance of Tyne Daly, who provides a welcome, fresh counterpoint to Eastwood’s weary copper. Viewers used to seeing her in endless Cagney and Lacey re-runs may be surprised by her winning turn, not to mention the fact she was clearly a bit of a cutie.

Otherwise, it’s like a cardboard cut-out of a Dirty Harry flick. James Fargo was in for his first directorial assignment, no doubt under heavy supervision from Eastwood, and he turns in a rather flat piece of work that goes ever for the obvious shots, dead even pacing and a curious absence of suspense. Where the story’s going is never in much doubt. There are no real surprises to be found, just the same actor going through the usual motions, looking a bit tired and potentially wondering why he’s been wheeled out for it at all. It’s the classic second sequel; all the things that made it great in the first place have been distilled to their base elements, with little of the style or wit that underpinned those earlier instalments.

The Enforcer: **

Every Which Way but Loose (1978)

When it’s on: Thursday, 24 May (7.45 pm)
Channel: ITV2
IMDb Link

Working through the massive Clint boxset, I get the impression there was a point in the 1970s when Mr Eastwood more or less stopped trying. Secure as a box office draw and satisfied with giving the public what they wanted, his films started getting complacent and unadventurous. Perhaps the malaise started with The Gauntlet, which I quite liked in a sheer dumb way, though its biggest service was to the bullet-production industry. But then you come across something like Every Which Way but Loose, a sort of comedy road movie action adventure and it feels like the bottom of the barrel was within touching distance.

Ill advisedly eschewing his tough guy films for something altogether lighter, Clint (who played essentially the same character as usual) and Every Which Way but Loose enjoyed enormous success at the box office, ensuring a sequel – the tired Any Which Way you Can – and a potential foray into the kind of niche cinema dominated by Burt Reynolds. The story, a rambling affair if ever there was one, involves trucker and bare-knuckle boxer, Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) journeying from California to Denver in pursuit of the woman he loves (Sondra Locke). With him goes his friend, Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) and orang-utan, Clyde, who he once won in a wager. After him travel a raft of people he’s pissed off – a bunch of Nazi Hell’s Angels bikers, a pair of cops – who are all bent on vengeance.

The film’s dated quite severely, partly because bits of it have been copied over and over, also due to the number of impossible things that happen simply to move the action along. Philo quickly emerges as unbeatable, and I guess we are supposed to be on the side of this easy-going man with simple desires. But then how do you empathise with anyone who starts a bar-fight over a bowl of peanuts, especially when it’s clear he’ll win, which suggests a less than salacious hint of bullying? Then there’s the Locke character. Clint’s real-life squeeze plays a Country and Western singer (the film’s soundtrack is basically a compilation of C&W *shudder*) who first beds Philo and then runs away. This prompts the bulk of the story, but there’s so little about her that’s likeable and worth chasing that you wonder why he bothers. Talking of bothering, why people take the time to pursue Philo across the States is anyone’s guess.

That said, there are places where it’s a lot of fun. The film’s main charms are Lewis, who riffs off Eastwood to splendid effect, and Ruth Gordon as his foul-tempered mother. And then there’s Clyde, who Clint claimed was one of the most natural actors he ever worked with. The mutual affection between the trio is quite winning and Clyde emerges as a star. He’s especially good value in this rather than the sequel, where his role was expanded in line with audience appreciation and led to some scenes that pushed the boundaries of taste. Manis, the orang-utan who played Clyde, had a natural gift for comic timing, dutifully collapsing to the floor when Philo finger-shot him.

It’s either great screwball fare that takes itself decidedly non-seriously, or a bit of a bloated mess that carries thirty minutes of excess baggage. Perhaps somewhere in between. James Fargo, who directed Eastwood previously on The Enforcer, did a fine job of suggesting that, at some point, Jeremy Joe Kronsberg’s script was thrown out of the window and the plot simply freewheeled it to the pass. This sometimes works. The random picking up of Echo (Beverley D’Angelo) along the way adds a cute character to the team, a love interest for Orville and an all round better egg than Locke’s rather nasty piece of work. In too many places it doesn’t, most pointedly in the bikers’ scenes; the ‘Black Widows’ are in the film for comic relief and almost elicit sympathy as an obvious bunch of losers who can’t even defeat Philo when they’re massed against him.

Every Which Way but Loose: **