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 Coogan's Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)

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PostSubject: Coogan's Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)   Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:54 am

COOGAN'S BLUFF

1968 - Director: Don Siegel - Cast: Clint Eastwood (Coogan), Lee J. Cobb (McElroy), Susan Clark (Julie Roth), Tisha sterling (Linny), Don Stroud (prisoner), Tom Tully, Betty Field - Music Lalo Schifrin

Coogan’s Bluff, the second film Clint Eastwood made in Hollywood after his return from Italy and Leone, opens in the Arizona desert, a location strongly resembling the background of his spaghetti westerns. When we first spot Clint he’s wearing a Stetson, but he’s also driving a jeep and wearing the outfit of a modern Arizona deputy sheriff. We’re in a western, still in a western, but we’re about to leave the genre’s – and its star’s – natural habitat. A few scenes later, we see the same man, still wearing a Stetson, flying over the city of New York, where he is supposed to extradite a prisoner, a hippy who has committed a crime in Arizona.

Coogan’s Bluff was one of the several projects offered to Clint Eastwood after the completion of his come back movie, Hang ‘m High. It appealed to Eastwood because it featured a ‘Western hero’ who leaves his own territory to move into a modern, urban environment: this transition, so he reckoned, would allow him to do the same thing as an actor. Hang ‘m High had established him as a bankable star, but many had interpreted it as a pseudo Italian western with a typically overloaded, pseudo Italian score, picking up what Clint had left behind in Italy. Coogan’s Bluff is unmistakably American, reflecting a clash between sophisticated law enforcement and frontier-style self-righteousness, according to some one of America’s major internal conflicts (1).

The script is a pattern of contrasts, opposing Coogan’s clear-cut methods favorably to modern day bureaucracy, but also opposing, less favorably, his ruthlessness and inflexibility to the tolerance of a Susan Clark’s social worker, Coogan’s love interest in the movie. Soon after his arrival in New York, Coogan is told that this are done differently on the East coast (We’re not at the O.K. Corral here), but of course he won’t listen. The prisoner escapes and Coogan roams the concrete jungle of New York, hat, boots and all, a cowboy in the big city, and tracks the man down personally, even though he’s told that his sheriff’s star is of no value in a town which has 28.000 policemen of its own.

When a first draught of the story was offered to him, Eastwood immediately noticed the possibilities of it, but he also realized that the story needed a strong directional hand. It wasn’t easy to find the right director, but then Universal came up with Don Siegel. Siegel was known as a proficient low-budget director, and had received some favorable reviews by critics of the French magazine Cahiers du cinema, but the true value of his movies had not yet been acknowledged. Eastwood was impressed by some of Siegel’s work, especially the TV movie The Killers. Siegel, on the other hand, loved the Leone’s spaghetti westerns and Eastwood’s laconic acting style. Still things did not run smoothly initially. Both Siegel and Eastwood had strong ideas about the project and it took several rewriting of the script before both men were satisfied (2).



Eastwood needed Siegel, but Siegel also needed Eastwood. Coogan’s Bluff was the second of his so-called rogue cop movies, exploiting the ambivalent role of the police in society. The third, and most influential, would be Dirty Harry, the first had been Madigan, released earlier the same year (3). Compared to Coogan’s Bluff, Madigan probably has the better story, but it looks and feels like an old school movie. It took Clint’s laconic approach and dry humor to make the formula really click. Coogan’s Bluff is often funny, and even if the first half lacks excitement, it’s always enjoyable. Although there’s relatively little action, the film set new standard for screen violence with an extraordinary scene in a poolroom, with Coogan, using billiard balls and cue sticks as a weapon, taking on six opponents, apparently killing one of them (note the reaction of one of the police officers). It also seems to announce some of the controversies Siegel and Eastwood would create with their most notorious collaboration, Dirty Harry.

Coogan’s straightforward methods seem more effective than those of police captain McElroy, a veteran who plays things by the book, but both McElroy and social worker Julie are portrayed as sympathetic, caring people, not as the bureaucratic idiots they (or similar characters) would become in the Dirty Harry movies. There’s some understanding between Coogan and McElroy, and Coogan even adopts some of Julie’s humane traits: in the opening scene, set in Arizona, we see him hitting a prisoner in the stomach and tying him to a pole (like an animal, says his boss); in the final scene he offers a cigarette to his prisoner. Coogan is clean-cut and resolute, but he’s also vulnerable and honest, a man with his own share of shortcomings. He’s an opportunist who sleeps with a hippy girl he disdains as a person, but he leaves Julie’s apartment when she gives him only five minutes: his machismo is hurt by this concealed rejection. However, the treatment of the New York hippy scene, which feels a little off-centre here, gives us a hint of which direction Siegel and Eastwood would take with the character in the future. There’s one scene in Coogan’s Bluff, set in a discotheque, with Coogan towering above the hippies around him, which shows him as vastly superior to his environment, a sort of a moral compass in a degenerated world (4). It would take only one more, albeit radical step to turn Coogan into the iconoclast dirty hero who would make some people’s day, and drive some others crazy.

Trivia:

* The title Coogan’s Bluff may refer to the main character’s name and the way he bluffs himself through the concrete jungle of a modern metropole, but Coogan’s bluff is also a lookout point in New York. Residents from Washington Heights and Harlem used to go to Coogan’s bluff to watch the games in the baseball stadium Polo Grounds without paying an entrance ticket. In a scene deleted from many copies, Julie talks about the lookout point to Coogan.
Lookout point Coogan’s bluff: http://www.washington-heights.us/history/archives/coogans_bluff_and_the_polo_grounds_14.html



* During the discotheque scene, images of a giant spider are projected on one of the walls; these images are taken from a film called Tarantula, in which Eastwood had an uncredited cameo

* The film was produced by Universal, the company that had rejected Eastwood thirteen years earlier

* Coogan’s Bluff served as a source for the TV-series McCloud, in which Dennis Weaver would take over the Eastwood part of the sheriff operating in an urban environment

Notes:

(1) Variety, Movie Guide, edited by Derek Elley, New York, 2000
(2) Gerald Cole and Peter Williams, Clint Eastwood, London, 1983, pag. 76-79
(3) Madigan, in: Time Out Film Guide, edited by Tom Milne, London 1998
(4) Gerald Cole and Peter Williams, Clint Eastwood, London, 1983, pag. 84





Last edited by scherpschutter on Mon Jun 28, 2010 1:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Coogan's Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)   Mon Jun 28, 2010 12:02 pm

Good review of a firm favourite of mine.

One small correction - it's Susan Clark who plays Julie, not Susan Scott (not that I'd blame you for having Susan Scott on the brain).

Besides the pool-hall rumble, my favourite scene is when Coogan confronts the hippies in the wonderfully named Pigeon-Toed Orange Peel disco, cowing a knife-wielding opponent with the aid of a broken bottle and a well-worded threat: "You better drop that blade or you won't believe what happens next, even while it's happening."

Vintage Clint.
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PostSubject: Re: Coogan's Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)   Mon Jun 28, 2010 1:52 pm

Changed it. Thanks.
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