Coogan’s Bluff (1968)


Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino) is Coogan, an Arizona Sheriff who comes to New York City to pick up a prisoner (Don Stroud, The Buddy Holly Story). The simple task gets complicated when the prisoner escapes.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You learn about a person when you hunt ’em.”

The second Malpaso film feels like a test run for the Harry Callahan series. While not as stylish as Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff is more interesting than it may seem at first glance: a modern noir packed with goodies.

Coogan’s Bluff works at different levels. First, it milks the “fish-out-of-water” scenario for all it’s worth. The film also works as a “clash-of-culture” drama; Coogan is a country boy who is bewildered by city dwellers. Granted, the movie relies on obvious stereotypes —  Arizonans are rednekish and straightforward, city people are hyperactive and shady — but what can I say? I found these cultural potshots very funny.

Most interesting is the film’s idea of the city as wilderness, a place tailor-made for Coogan’s brand of rogue policing. This is a not-so-subtle critique of the city’s bureaucratic system. Like Dirty Harry, the film seems to suggest that laws “hinder” the capacity of cops to keep the peace. While the movie’s message is problematic at best, this morally dubious, manipulative action/thriller is undeniably entertaining.

The male protagonist — a bona fide noir anti-hero — is full of fascinating contradictions; a protector of traditional values who is every bit as unruly and defiant as the hippies he hates. This is where Coogan’s Bluff proves to be smarter than your average action movie. The movie suggests that the conservative Coogan and the flower children are siblings under the skin, and that’s a provocative argument to say the least!

The supporting cast is just fantastic! Lee J. Cobb (The Exorcist) plays a cranky cop, Susan Clark (Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here) is a bleeding-heart probation officer and Tisha Sterling (The Whales of August) is a dopey hippie. There are a few nice cameos: Betty Field (Birdman of Alcatraz) plays a harridan, Tom Tully (The Caine Mutiny) is Eastwood’s long-suffering boss and Marjorie Bennett (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) is hilarious as a compulsive confessor. Lalo Schifrin’s (Cool Hand Luke and The Amityville Horror) music score is wonderfully ’70s.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Coogan’s Bluff was directed by Don Siegel, one of Eastwood’s most important collaborators. Italian maestro Segio Leone made Eastwood an international star, but Siegel is the person responsible for Eastwood’s status as an American Icon. Although not my favorite Siegel-Eastwood production, Coogan’s Bluff is surprisingly good and interesting. It was, of course, the inspiration for TV’s popular McCloud with Dennis Weaver (Steven Spielberg’s Duel). Color, 93 minutes, Rated R.

8 responses to “Coogan’s Bluff (1968)

  1. I’ve always thought this was an under-rated film, but for as much of an Eastwood fan as I am, I don’t know how I never saw this as a “dry run for Dirty Harry.” Now that you said that, I totally get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the hippie club scene and the tune with the brilliant title of “Pigeon Toed Orange Peel” Such a great film, you’re so right, like a dry run for Dirty Harry. Like his twin brother he didn’t know he’d had who was brought up in Arizona.
    I’ve always loved it and it’s humour.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched this recently and quite enjoyed it. I pretty much agree with you about it. I think all the culture-clash stuff and contradictions are fascinating. It’s easy to see this as the linking piece between Eastwood’s westerns and Dirty Harry.

    Liked by 1 person

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