(On DVD, April 2018) Considering how the first Dirty Harry movie made nearly everyone uncomfortable with how it glorified the vigilantism of its protagonist, there is something almost hilarious to see sequel Magnum Force try to distance itself from this position by pitting Harry Callahan against even worse rotten cops. From the first few moments of the film, with a credit sequence lovingly focus on the titular gun, it’s clear that this sequel regrets nothing and doubles-down on its assets. (Unsurprisingly, it was written by noted gun aficionado John Milius.) Here an entire group of killer cops is uncovered and while Callahan does get a few choice words about their methods, the film wants you to know and understand and appreciate that he’s nothing like those killer cops because reasons, that’s why. Or rather Callahan will gun down those that he determines to be bad rather than being told by some other guy. Or something. Perhaps it’s better to pretend that Callahan is the good guy and appreciate what he does in order to catch the designated bad guys. To be fair, Magnum Force does have its moments. The film isn’t as polished as the mean thrills of the original, but it does have Clint Eastwood (always an asset), Hal Holbrook as a no-fun superior antagonist, a detecting sequence that sees Callahan in a shooting contest with his enemies, and an interesting motorcycle chase climaxing on an aircraft carrier. The atmosphere of mid-seventies San Francisco is always worth a look even though the film itself is hum-drum. Magnum Force does build upon the first movie, though, so you might as well keep going through this one if ever you have the choice.
(On DVD, September 2017) I’m not that fond of anything bolstering moon landing hoax conspiracy theories, and Capricorn One (despite technically being about a faked Mars landing) is one of the codifiers of that particular delusion. But let’s not blame a glum seventies thriller for contemporary idiocy—and let’s recognize that the film, one of veteran writer/director Peter Hyams’s first popular successes, still has a modest kick to it. Much of Capricorn One’s first half is a procedural thriller explaining why and how a Mars landing would be faked, and the reasons why the astronauts would go along with it. Then, landing successfully faked, it switches gears to a more familiar conspiracy thriller, keeping a trio of desert chases for its third act. The conspiracy itself doesn’t make a lot of sense (although it is good for a few vertiginous moments, such as the lengthy shot that gradually pulls away from a helmet to encompass the studio in which everything has been broadcast) but the film does get better with its thrills as it goes along. Highlights include a first-person runaway speeding sequence through a city that feels viscerally dangerous, and an extended air chase sequence toward the end that rivals anything produced since then. Hyams is a canny filmmaker, and it shows through a film that occasionally feels as gripping as it must have been back then. There are also a few good actors: Hal Holbrook is remarkable as a man who ultimately has to fake everything in order to keep his dream alive, whereas Elliott Gould is in fine form as an unlikely action hero. (For more of Gould as a dashing lead, have a look at the rather good Canadian-made thriller The Silent Partner, also released the same year.) O.J. Simpson and James Brolin also show up as astronauts, even though they’re severely underwritten. While Capricorn One could have been tightened up considerably, it’s decently enjoyable as it is. I’m not asking for a remake, though.