Monday, 10 December 2012

Movie Review: Coogan's Bluff (1968)

A bright premise and a charismatic star fail to make up for boorish execution. Coogan's Bluff suffers from a short-tempered and almost misogynistic attitude, undermining the country-cop-in-the-city elements.

Arizona Deputy Sheriff Coogan (Clint Eastwood) is an expert at tracking down fugitives in the wide open desert. An arrogant womaniser, Coogan is tasked with travelling to New York City to escort captured prisoner James Ringerman (Don Stroud) back to Arizona. In New York, a straightforward operation immediately goes sideways when Coogan learns from Detective Lieutenant McElroy (Lee J. Cobb) that Ringerman is in hospital suffering the after effects of an acid trip, and can only be released into Coogan's custody once he recovers.

Coogan kills the hours attempting to woo probation officer Julie Roth (Susan Clark), but he eventually grows tired of waiting and bluffs his way into the hospital to take unauthorized custody of Ringerman. But that only prompts Ringerman's pals Linny Raven (Tisha Sterling) and Pushie (David Doyle) to ambush Coogan and free Ringerman. Despite the unfamiliar surroundings, Coogan is eager to embark on what he knows best, tracking down an escaped fugitive.

Falling into the gap between the end of Sergio Leone's Man With No Name trilogy and Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff literally transports Eastwood's western persona into the city, a journey that would only find a happy ending with Harry Callahan. Under the economical direction of Don Siegel, Coogan's Bluff does offer a few sharp angles, including a running joke about Coogan being mistaken for a Texan, and Eastwood's radiating star presence, but the film otherwise rapidly stumbles into uncouth territory.

Coogan's technique with women borders on lecherous, his behaviour galloping way past rural and into medieval territory. His policing and investigative skills are for the most part not much better, quickly defaulting to intimidation and outright violence. That ultimately Coogan's rudimentary people-finding skills, amounting to bullying first Ringerman's mother and then his girlfriend, prove to be more effective than the best that New York City's finest could come up with, is a condemnation of Herman Miller's limited screenplay.

Eastwood is much better than the material, and he cuts a dashing, dominant figure, made more imposing in his boots and cowboy hat while traipsing through the streets of New York.  Lee J. Cobb brings standard grizzled and harried police detective attributes to McElroy, while Susan Clark deserves better than an underdeveloped role as Coogan's main lust target. Some of Don Stroud's manic mannerisms as Ringerman would re-emerge with stronger colours in the Scorpio character of Dirty Harry.

In the process of transitioning from a six shooter to a Magnum, Coogan's Bluff is a misfire.

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