Thursday, December 3, 2009

1st Review! - Coogan's Bluff (1968) - by Mark Oswald

Hello there! I am Mark Oswald and I present to you the first of many Action-themed movie reviews to come! I've got a couple to post in the near future, featuring such Action Titans as Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

But for now, I'm kicking this off with the very first of 5 collaborations between the legendary Clint Eastwood and Director Don Siegel. Read on and enjoy!

Clint Eastwood is a man who needs no introduction. This review on the other hand, requires one. Any self-respected action fan, or film fan in general, should be well aware of Clint’s contribution to the art of ass kicking. Unfortunately for me, I arrived a little late in the game to Mr. Eastwood’s fan club. Growing up I had seen only a couple of his movies (The Rookie, In the Line of Fire), but even then I was aware of his bad ass reputation. It was something that seemed to be instilled in the public consciousness, regardless of whether or not you had seen any of the man’s films. My initial introduction to the world of Badass Cinema was through the big names of the time; mainly Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Later on Bruce Willis emerged as my favorite; his every-man image being the most endearing to a young mind such as my own. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I got my head out of my ass and decided to give this Eastwood fellow a fair shake.

I started with Dirty Harry, and from there I went on watching any Clint film I could get my hands on. The vast majority of them were purchased without prior viewing. Now this isn’t a practice I tend to exercise all that often, but after I had seen a few Clint movies, I decided that even if I didn’t end up loving the film, there was always something to get out of it, and would probably suck me into repeat viewings in the future. There was only one instance where one of the movies I bought (Firefox) was so blatantly unenjoyable, that I sold it on e-bay shortly after, knowing that I’d never feel the urge to watch it again; a statement that to this day, remains true. Currently there is only one Eastwood film that I have yet to see. Paint Your Wagon, a western musical co-starring Lee Marvin that even Clint himself isn’t too fond of, so I’m not exactly sure when I will get to that one.

So where does Coogan’s Bluff factor in all of this? It was Eastwood’s very first collaboration with Director Don Siegel. They obviously must’ve gotten along quite well seeing that they continued working together over the years on four subsequent films; Two Mules for Sister Sarah, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, and Escape From Alcatraz. When I initially saw Coogan’s Bluff, I was sort of on the fence about it. I thought it had some good scenes, but overall I wasn’t blown away. This being my second viewing, I have to say I liked it quite a bit more.

This film’s most interesting aspect is the fact that it acts as a perfect connector film to bridge the gap between Eastwood’s cowboy and big city cop personas. Prior to 1968, Clint had only appeared in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, and the western T.V. show, Rawhide. Then came Clint’s first American-made western, Hang ‘Em High, which was released just a couple months before Coogan’s Bluff. It seemed like the perfect time for Clint to transition from cowboy to cop.

In the film, Eastwood plays Walt Coogan, a Deputy Sherriff from Arizona who is first seen tracking a Native American fellow who had apparently shot some people and headed out into the mountains. After capturing the man, Clint decides that instead of bringing him in to the station, he’ll stop off for a little afternoon delight with a married woman he has been sleeping with while her husband’s away. All the while, the Native man is handcuffed to her porch. As Clint is bathing, his superiors bust in and decide to give him a shit assignment as punishment for not obeying standard procedure. Presumably stopping off for quickies and a bath isn’t exactly the norm around those parts. The assignment is to travel to New York City and transport a prisoner back to Arizona, where he’s wanted for something or other. They may have explained it but I forgot, so sue me.

Now many may look at this guy Coogan and see him as just another Eastwood tough-guy character (I know that’s how I saw him the first time), when in actuality, he is quite a bit different. Coogan is more of a young hot-shot type. While Dirty Harry was a confident bad ass with a distain for authority like Coogan, he also comes across as wiser, more world-wary, and he only got more-so as that series progressed. Coogan doesn’t like following procedure, he’s impatient, and has a tendency to try and get with any woman he meets, except for a semi-busted hooker (or something) that lives in his hotel. He boots her on out the door after she tries to get a little loving, and then tries to steal his wallet.

Coogan is told that he has to go through all these steps to get his prisoner, James Ringerman, out of a mental hospital (where he was sent to after tripping on some LSD), but instead of playing by the rules, he “bluffs” himself into the hospital and leaves with the prisoner in his custody. Not the best move however, seeing as Ringerman set up Coogan for an ambush before they were to take off in a helicopter to Arizona. The movie follows that old “hero gets in trouble and taken off the case but his pride won’t allow him to let it go, so he pursues the bad guy anyways” type of mold that we’ve all seen before. Part of the reason that this film stands out however, is also one of the reasons I feel its structure is so uneven. There is a romantic subplot between Eastwood and a Probation Officer named Julie Roth. Their scenes together are good and I definitely feel would work in more of a romantic movie, but in a police drama such as this, I think their relationship throws off the pace of much of the movie. I mean I really don’t want to sound like I’m crapping on romance or anything. The Bridges of Madison County is an excellent Clint romance that I honestly think showcases his best acting performance to date. In this movie, however, it just feels like it takes too much screen time away from all the cop business. This was the big thing that bothered me upon my first viewing, and though I obviously still think it’s an issue, it didn’t get to me as much this time around, probably because I knew it was coming.

Other notable things about the movie are the special little touches that you would only find in a movie from this era. Odd fish-eye close-ups, a psychedelic rave scene, and one of those great extended vehicle chases like you’d find in Bullitt or The French Connection. This one is on a smaller scale than those others, but still works quite well, especially since it involves motorcycles through Central Park and you can clearly tell that the actors did a lot of the riding themselves (great stuff!). There’s also a pretty solid bar fight in the picture as well (FYI). There’s also this running gag about how since Clint is wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and bolo tie, people think he’s from Texas, because apparently only people from Texas dress that way. I guess this is the filmmakers’ way of poking fun at stereotypes. It may be a little silly, but I still think it’s pretty funny due to the looks on Clint’s face and when he corrects them with just, “Arizona”.

One more thing that will probably only matter to serious Clintologists, is the brief appearance of Albert Popwell in the club scene. This guy must have been a buddy of Eastwood’s because he shows up not only in this movie, but also in the first four Dirty Harry films, playing a different character each time. He goes from a Bank Robber, to a Pimp, to the leader of a Black militant group, and then finally a fellow police officer and friend of Harry’s.

All in all this is a solid movie. Not my favorite Eastwood/Siegel collaboration, but it’s definitely worth a look for those who want to view Clint’s onscreen transition from “The Man with No Name” to “‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan”.

- Body Count – 0 (weird, I know)

- Women who succumb to the Eastwood charm - 3


  1. Beautiful write up my friend. I will need to watch this gem again.

  2. yeahhhhhhhhhhh !!!!!