Pop Rewind: ‘Coogan’s Bluff’

Eastwood's culture-clash caper stands test of time

The 1968 cop drama “Coogan’s Bluff” can’t be included in the list of Clint Eastwood’s best films. It still served as an important service to the acting legend.

“Bluff” introduced him to the director with whom he’d shoot the iconic “Dirty Harry,” Don Siegel. Bluff’s” box office receipts confirmed Eastwood’s star status at a time when some could have dubbed him a Spaghetti Western hero … and nothing more. This was years before Eastwood became a sought-after director, a career trend that continues on the heels of his Oscar-nominated “American Sniper” and his biopic of pilot “Sully” Sullenberger. Coogans-Bluff-Fun-Fact

Eastwood plays The Man with One Name – Coogan – an Arizona lawman sent to New York to extradite a murder suspect named Jimmy Ringerman (Don Stroud).

Coogan immediately runs afoul of the man in charge of the case, a by-the-book sheriff named McElroy (the great Lee J. Cobb) who says Coogan will have to cool his heels. Seems Ringerman tripped out on some LSD and is in no condition to travel.

Eastwood’s character doesn’t take orders from anyone. Sound familiar? So he bluffs his way to Ringerman’s bedside, hell-bent on bringing him to justice ASAP. This small-city lawman doesn’t realize how the game works in the Big Apple.

This small-city lawman doesn’t realize how the game works in the Big Apple

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“Coogan’s Bluff” operates on the standard “fish out of water” template, a setup that pays swift dividends. The sight of Coogan, so tall and lean he looks like a skyscraper in his western garb and pointy boots, smartly contrasts our hero with the unfamiliar urban setting.

The cultural differences aren’t played for laughs. It’s simply texture to the story, that of a stubborn lawman unwilling to bend to the rules of his new neighborhood. Local officers keep referring to him as a Texan, a riff on arrogant New Yorkers lumping people together not clever enough to call one of the five boroughs home.

for-adultsAn even better contrast takes shape between Coogan and McElroy. The actors are so tonally different they might as well be appearing in two different films. And it works beautifully. Just watch the two stare down each other after McElroy tells Coogan the fugitive won’t be ready to transport for the foreseeable future. Coogan won’t leave. McElroy can’t understand why.

“Coogan’s Bluff” doesn’t take sides in the culture war on display. Coogan looks a bit silly sticking to his principles every step of the way, while the cops working the New York beat could learn a thing or two watching Coogan in action.

The Eastwood character mold hasn’t solidified yet, the clay still wet to the touch. But it’s well on its way to completion. No nonsense. Steely eyed. Penetrating.

Coogan also happens to be positively Bond-like with the ladies.

Coogan also happens to be positively Bond-like with the ladies. They swoon for him without question, and he uses them to satisfy his urges or help solve the case at hand. Consider poor Julie, a probation officer played by Susan Clark (yes, “Webster’s” mother). She suffers the most indignities at the hands of Coogan, but she’s hardly turned off by his womanizing.

What’s wonderful about “Coogan’s Bluff” is its simplicity. It’s all business, starting with a mega-star turn and finishing with a spare and powerful chase sequence. That message was lost on some upon the film’s release. New York magazine dubbed “Coogan’s Bluff” “the worst happening of the year,” according to “American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood.”

It’s nothing of the kind. Rather, it marks the dawn of a movie star’s ascendancy in the kind of sturdy projects that would serve him well for the next four decades.

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