The Aristotelian query ("What makes a man crazy enough to join the cops?") is posed early, right after Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan negotiates a hostage situation by plowing his vehicle into the storefront. The case at hand is a group of hippified radicals led by a psycho with a penchant for shivving people in the kidneys (DeVeren Bookwalker); their real crime, according to a Black Panthers hepcat (Albert Popwell), isn’t making off with a vanload of rocket-launchers or kidnapping the Mayor of San Francisco (John Crawford), but shouting "power to the people" while doing it for the money. In addition to a murdered colleague (John Mitchum) and office bureaucracy ("A written request?!"), the inspector’s woes also include a skirt-wearing new partner (Tyne Daly), part of an "attempt to broaden the areas of participation for women." After the fierceness of Siegel and Post, James Fargo is more like a glorified mechanic following blueprints, though the action sequences are staged with enough punch to scratch the city’s patina for the grunginess underneath -- a rooftop chase crashes into a porno set, a massage parlor melee spills into a backroom where piles of salacious letters are smooched by lipsticked old biddies. Daly meanwhile endures the coroner’s gallows humor, shoots a villainess disguised in nun’s habit, and generally "learns to hold her end of the log" while tweaking Callahan about his phallocentric hand-cannon. Eastwood’s scowl as his clueless superiors congratulate each other on a mission not-so-accomplished is particularly prophetic of governmental boondoggles to come ("Doesn’t it bother anybody that there were no weapons found?"), High Noon is updated (or purposely downgraded, if you will) to make room for bazookas and "seven-point suppositories." Eastwood himself took the next logical step by rolling all three installments into Sudden Impact. With Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, Samantha Doane, Jocelyn Jones, and M.G. Kelly.
--- Fernando F. Croce