Book Report: The Enforcer by Wesley Morgan (1976)

Yes, this book is the novelization of the Dirty Harry movie of the same name. I know, you’re thinking that I am not a very serious reader of true literature and that I should have my English degree revoked for bothering with a mid 1970s movie tie in (as opposed to the high art represented by Harry Potter books in the twenty-first century). But I read a lot of things, and besides, this only cost me 95 cents at Downtown Books in Milwaukee, so I got it, and that’s the last we’ll hear of it.

So I read the book having watched the movie first, which follows the pattern of creation for the book. Unlike regular movies, where you watch them to see how they differ from the book from which the movie sprung (whoops, I need a helping verb there; I mean done sprung), these novelizations use the movie itself as source material, so the writers of these books either give or take away things from the movie rather than the screenwriters doing the opposite. In a lot of my youth, I’ve read novelizations before seeing the movie, so my comparative experience always favored the book anyway. This time, though, it’s different.

I’ve seen the series of movies and it’s through their prisms that I look at the book and say: eh, it wasn’t bad, but it certainly tried to soften up Harry. I will have to review the movie again, but I don’t remember Harry crying at any point, nor did I detect the facial expressions on Harry that the author puts there. Still, perhaps he had one of those new Videocassette Recorder things and was pausing while he typed the manuscript on his Smith-Corona, but most likely he was trying to add something to attract a wider audience, the subtly different audience who did not follow Dirty Harry in the movies nor Clint Eastwood and who wanted more characterization. Well, that’s a laudable goal. He didn’t really succeed.

Aside from the inner sentimentalism added to Harry, the additional characterization-through-a-paragraph-of-exposition trick doesn’t work. All minor characters get one or two paragraphs of explanation for their behavior, but that’s it. The author’s limitations included fidelity to the filmed scenes, and this author doesn’t seem to stray far-or any–from the scenes filmed. And he adds that paragraph to give depth to the characters. Ultimately, it doesn’t bring additional meaning to the source material. Perhaps he could have added scenes that did not run counter to the story or he could have added more interior dialogue to each character than the single paragraph, but hell, man, he was probably just banging it out for a paragraph.

I guess we can’t all be Tom Stoppard, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead isn’t exactly a direct novelization of Hamlet, but its techniques could serve those trying to write novelizations on movies. But that might double the actual writing time from four hours to eight or ten, which eats into the profit.

So would I recommend it? Sure, if you’re a collector, a voracious reader, or someone like me who dabbles in these things for the curiousities that lie outside of the actual text.