Monday, September 20, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Coogan's Bluff (1968) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

COOGAN'S BLUFF (1968), starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel, was released last month in a Special Edition Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I was interested to see the film as I've gradually been digging into the careers of both actor and director. COOGAN'S BLUFF, in which Eastwood plays an Arizona Deputy Sheriff, has been described by a couple of writers as a transitional role between Eastwood's '60s Westerns and his first appearance as DIRTY HARRY (1971); Eastwood, in the title role, plays a modern-day "cowboy cop" of sorts who finds himself on a manhunt in New York City.

Coogan, who frequently exasperates his boss Sheriff McCrea (the great Tom Tully), is sent to New York to escort a fugitive named Ringerman (Don Stroud) back to Arizona for trial.

Once in New York City, Coogan gets no help from Lt. McElroy (Lee J. Cobb), who seems to enjoy insulting Coogan -- he constantly erroneously refers to Coogan being from Texas -- and refuses to go out of his way to provide help.

Coogan finds a way to wangle custody of Ringerman, but Ringerman promptly escapes, making Coogan a very unpopular fellow with both Lt. McElroy and his unseen boss back in Arizona. Lt. McElroy threatens Coogan with arrest and tries to force him to fly home, but Coogan is determined to find his quarry. In his brief down time, he romances lovely Julie (Susan Clark), who he meets thanks to her work at the police station.

I found COOGAN'S BLUFF just a modestly entertaining film which I appreciated as additional insight into Eastwood's career; I think I liked the story concept better than the actual execution. (The script was by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, and Howard Rodman, from Miller's story.) It's a great idea for a movie but it simply sputters along, alternating interesting and exasperating scenes.

In particular, I felt more could have been done with Eastwood's McCLOUD-style "fish out of water" character, and particularly with Lt. McElroy. There's not much explanation for McElroy's behavior, other than that he's a jerk, which makes his character softening in the final scenes a bit mystifying.

It also would have helped if the audience better understood the rather arrogant Coogan, who as the film unfolds makes a series of dumb decisions; those are balanced out by positive traits, such as his tenacity. Late in the film Coogan begins to open up to Julie a bit, but it's too little, too late. I can appreciate imperfect, human characters, but it's useful to understand their backgrounds and motivations, which also serves to make them more sympathetic.

Eastwood and Clark's scenes are the best in the film, until he unforgivably betrays her confidence; while the viewer can appreciate Coogan's determination, especially with his career on the line, he takes advantage of Julie's trust in a way which makes him seem every bit as obnoxious as Lt. McElroy.

Most of the environments and people depicted in the film are frankly too sordid to be enjoyable, but the movie has some nice moments scattered throughout. It was fun to see Melodie Johnson sharing a bathtub with Eastwood early in the film; today she is better known as crime fiction writer Melodie Johnson Howe. I've enjoyed chatting with her occasionally on Twitter in recent years and found her to be quite nice, and she knows her classic movies, too.

I also especially appreciated the location filming at the Cloisters Museum as well as the terrific closing shot of New York's Pan Am Building as Eastwood's New York Airways helicopter takes off. The movie was filmed by Bud Thackery and the uncredited Robert Surtees.

The supporting cast includes Betty Field, Tisha Sterling (daughter of Robert Sterling and Ann Sothern), James Edwards, Rudy Diaz, and Marjorie Bennett. The running time is 93 minutes.

Kino Lorber's widescreen Blu-ray print looks and sounds top-notch.

The plentiful extras on Kino Lorber's Special Edition Blu-ray include two commentary tracks, by Alex Cox and Alan Spencer; a new interview with Stroud and a vintage interview with Eastwood; theatrical teaser trailers; a radio spot; poster and image galleries; an Eastwood trailer gallery (10); and reversible cover art.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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