In Marin County, two gas company men are lured by a scantily-clad woman (Jocelyn Jones) to a remote spot in Mill Valley and killed by Bobby Maxwell (DeVeren Bookwalter). Maxwell's gang, the People's Revolutionary Strike Force (PRSF), plans to use the gas men's uniforms and van as part of an ambitious series of crimes that will make them rich.
Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) and his partner Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum), after dealing with a chronic fainter, arrive at a liquor store where robbers have taken hostages. The robbers demand a car with a police radio; the inspector provides one by driving his squad car into the store and shooting the robbers.
His superior Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman) reprimands Callahan for "excessive use of force", injuring the hostages, and causing $14,379 of damage to the store, and temporarily transfers him out of the Homicide unit. While assigned to Personnel, Callahan participates in the interview process for promotions, and learns that affirmative action means that three of the new inspectors will be female including Kate Moore (Tyne Daly), despite her very limited field experience.
The PRSF uses the gas company van to steal M72 LAW rockets, Colt M16 rifles, a Taser and other weapons from a warehouse. In the course of the robbery, three people are killed: a security guard whom Maxwell kills for his keys; DiGiorgio, whom Maxwell stabs in the back after he stumbles in on the robbery after discovering the guard's body; and Miki, one of Maxwell's accomplices, is accidentally shot when DiGiorgio's gun goes off. Maxwell finishes her off as "dead weight" with DiGiorgio's weapon. To Callahan's distress, Moore is his new partner; she claims to understand the risk, noting that—besides DiGiorgio—two other partners of his have died. After watching an Army demonstration of the LAW rocket on a firing range, they visit the Hall of Justice to sit in on an autopsy on the security guard killed in the robbery. Shortly afterwards, a bomb explodes in the bathroom. Callahan and Moore chase down and capture the PRSF bomber, Henry Lee Caldwell, and meet "Big" Ed Mustapha (Albert Popwell), leader of a black militant group the bomber formerly belonged to.
Although Callahan makes a deal with Mustapha for information, McKay arrests the militants for the PRSF's crimes. Callahan angrily refuses to participate in a televised press conference in which the publicity-seeking mayor would commend him and Moore ("one of the first of her sex in the whole country") for solving the case, and McKay suspends him from duty. Moore supports Callahan and gains his respect.
The PRSF boldly kidnaps the mayor after a Giants game in a very orchestrated ambush. With Mustapha's help Callahan and Moore locate the gang at Alcatraz Island, where they battle the kidnappers. Moore frees the mayor but Maxwell kills her as she saves Callahan's life. He avenges Moore by killing Maxwell with a LAW rocket. The inspector is uninterested in the mayor's gratitude, returning to his partner's corpse as McKay and others arrive to agree to Maxwell's demands.Clint Eastwood as Insp. Harry Callahan
Tyne Daly as Insp. Kate Moore
Harry Guardino as Lt. Al J. Bressler
Bradford Dillman as Capt. Jerome McKay
John Mitchum as Insp. Frank DiGiorgio
DeVeren Bookwalter as Bobby Maxwell
Albert Popwell as Big Ed Mustapha
John Crawford as The Mayor
Robert Hoy as Buchinski
Michael Cavanaugh as Lalo
Jocelyn Jones as Miki
Dick Durock as Karl
Samantha Doane as Wanda
M. G. Kelly as Father John
Terry McGovern as Disc Jockey
John Roselius as Mayor's Driver
Rudy Ramos as Store Robber Mendez
Joe Spano as Store Robber Mitchell (uncredited)
The first script was written in 1974 by two young San Francisco area film students, Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr, with the title Moving Target. After seeing Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, the two fledgling writers decided to pen a screenplay of their own featuring the character of Inspector Harry Callahan. Inspired by the Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1974, the storyline had Inspector Harry Callahan going up against a violent militant group reminiscent of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In the script, the militants kidnap and ransom the mayor of San Francisco.
After the screenplay was finished Hickman visited Eastwood's Carmel restaurant, The Hog's Breath Inn, and approached Eastwood's business partner, Paul Lippman, asking if he would give their effort to Eastwood. Lippman was initially hesitant, but finally agreed. Although Eastwood thought the script needed work, he liked the concept, particularly the priest with militant leanings and the portrayal of black militants, which was based on the Black Panther Party.
Warner Brothers, meanwhile, eager to capitalize on the success of the two Dirty Harry films, had hired seasoned screenwriter Stirling Silliphant to write a new Harry Callahan story. Silliphant wrote a script called Dirty Harry and More, in which the Callahan character was teamed up with an Asian-American woman partner named More. Eastwood liked the woman partner angle, but felt the script spent too much time on character and did not have enough action. Eastwood then showed the Hickman/Schurr script to Silliphant, and Silliphant agreed to rewrite it.
Silliphant wrote the script throughout late 1975 and early 1976 and delivered his draft to Eastwood in February 1976. While Eastwood approved, he believed there was still too much emphasis on the character relationships rather than the action and was concerned the fans might not approve. He then brought in screenwriter Dean Riesner, who had worked on the scripts of Dirty Harry and Coogan's Bluff, to do revisions.
Recurring characters Lieutenant Bressler (Harry Guardino) and Frank DiGiorgio (John Mitchum) reprise their roles for the last time in a Dirty Harry film. Bressler was Callahan's boss in the first film of the series; DiGiorgio appeared in the previous two but dies in this film. A new character, Captain Jerome McKay (Bradford Dillman), was introduced as Callahan's superior officer. Dillman played a similar role, Captain Briggs, in Sudden Impact.
The character of Kate Moore, Harry's female partner, went to Tyne Daly. Daly's casting was initially uncertain, given that she turned down the role three times. She objected to the way her character was treated in parts of the film and showed concern that two members of the police force falling in love on the job was problematic, given that they would be putting their lives in jeopardy by not reaching peak efficiency. Daly was permitted to read the drafts of the script developed by Riesner and had significant leeway in the development of her character, although after seeing the film at the premiere was horrified by the extent of the violence. Regarding Callahan's relationship with Moore, Eastwood stated:
I didn't see Dirty Harry going for a Hollywood-type glamour girl. He's the kind of guy that when he dated somebody it was probably a secretary or receptionist somewhere, somebody he would meet along the way...Tyne Daly was perfect for the part. It starts out like great love should, it starts out...by earning respect and she earns his respect and then you think "Could be, could go another step."
When production began, the working title of the film was Dirty Harry III, in keeping with other sequels of the time. Eastwood felt that the film needed a title of its own, and in the middle of production came up with The Enforcer.
After his disputes with Ted Post on the set of the previous Dirty Harry installment, Eastwood fully intended to direct The Enforcer himself. Ironically, Eastwood's replacement of Philip Kaufman on The Outlaw Josey Wales (and the consequent need to handle post-production on that film) left Eastwood without enough time to prepare himself to direct The Enforcer. As a result, Eastwood gave the director's chair to James Fargo, his longtime assistant director, who made his debut as a full director on this film. Eastwood had the final say on all the critical decisions, but since the two men were far more familiar with each other's working styles than Eastwood had been with Ted Post, they rarely butted heads during production.
Filming commenced in the San Francisco bay area in the summer of 1976. Eastwood was initially still dubious about the quantity of his lines and preferred a less talkative approach, something perhaps embedded in him by Sergio Leone. The film ended up considerably shorter than the previous Dirty Harry films, and was cut to 95 minutes for its final running time.
The music score for The Enforcer was written by Jerry Fielding, making The Enforcer the only Dirty Harry film without a score by Lalo Schifrin. The film was originally intended to be the last Dirty Harry film of a trilogy. A poll conducted by Warner Bros in 1983 led to the development of a fourth film, Sudden Impact and the resurrection of the film series. Eastwood never intended to make more Dirty Harry films, but private agreements with the studio allowed him to do more "personal" films in exchange for doing the subsequent sequels.
Critically, Eastwood's performance was poorly received and was named "Worst Actor of the Year" by the Harvard Lampoon and the film was criticized for its level of violence. A Variety review indicated that the film was a "worn out copy of Dirty Harry. ... The next project from this particular mold had better shape up or give up."
Eastwood's performance in the third installment was overshadowed by positive reviews given to Daly as the strong-minded female cop, which she would follow up with a similar role as Det. Mary Beth Lacey in the television series Cagney and Lacey. Daly received rave reviews, with Marjorie Rosen remarking that Malpaso "had invented a heroine of steel" and Jean Hoelscher of The Hollywood Reporter praising Eastwood for abandoning his ego in casting such a strong female actress in his film. Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gave the film a score of 79% based on reviews from 28 critics, 22 of which were judged to be positive and 6 negative.
Upon release in December 1976, The Enforcer was a major commercial success and grossed a total of $46,236,000 in the United States, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1976. Overall this figure made it the most profitable of the Dirty Harry series for seven years until the release of Sudden Impact.