Coogan's Bluff

Clint Eastwood in Coogan's Bluff

Imagine a version of Inherent Vice told from the perspective of Josh Brolin's character, and you have an idea of what Coogan's Bluff is like. It's the story of an old-fashioned shitkicker from Arizona, who flies into New York City and engages in some old-fashioned shitkicking. It's a movie that certainly couldn't be remade in 2015 (unless you sanded the edges off, anyway), but there's something devilishly entertaining about the movie's anti-PC swagger: it's filled to the brim with old-fashioned sexism, enthusiastic civil rights violations and dismissive potshots at hippie culture. The film probably ought to feel ugly, but Clint Eastwood's performance is so infectious and Don Siegel's direction is so snappy that it's hard to prevent a goofy grin from creeping across your face.

In a number of ways, Coogan's Bluff plays like a warmup for the work Eastwood and Siegel would do on Dirty Harry. Arizona Deputy Sheriff Walt Coogan (Eastwood) is tasked with extraditing an escaped convict named James Ringerman (Don Stroud, Joe Kidd). The job seems simple enough, but when Coogan arrives in New York to pick up the prisoner, Ringerman escapes yet again. Soon, our cowboy hat-sporting hero is stomping through the weirdest corners of New York City in search of the convict. Along the way, he punches a lot of people, serves up a generous number of laconic quips and sleeps with more women than James Bond on vacation.

The most amusing thing about Coogan's Bluff is that Coogan isn't particularly good at his job. Sure, he can handle anyone in fistfight, but his approach to detective work is hilariously simplistic. Generally, Coogan feels the best approach is to punch people until someone tells him what he wants to know. When that fails, he comes up with another brilliant plan: he should just sleep with Ringerman's girlfriend. When his seductive powers fail to secure a solid lead, Coogan resorts to threatening to murder the girlfriend. Coogan doesn't just break the rules, he sets them on fire and shoves them off the top of a tall building.

The film's visual high point arrives when Coogan wanders into a massive hippie happening filled with naked trapeze artists, body painting sessions, hallucinatory drugs and casual orgies. “Hey, Charlie!” one stoned hippie giggles. “The name's Coogan,” Eastwood growls. It plays like a friskier, less oppressive version of Jon Voight's bewildered journey through a similar event in Midnight Cowboy (a far more sensitive fish-out-of-water tale about a cowboy in New York City). The whole sequence is such loopy fun that you can practically see Siegel grinning behind the camera. Eastwood reportedly contributed quite a bit to the script, and it's easy to draw a direct line between this and the cheerfully silly Dirty Harry parody The Dead Pool.

Susan Clark (Webster) plays a love interest of sorts – I say “of sorts” because Eastwood romances Clark's character between casually bedding other women. Also, when I saw that Eastwood “romances” her, what I really mean is that he harasses her until she agrees to have dinner with him. After they eat, Clark reaches into her pocket book to cover her half of the meal. “Aren't you a girl?” Eastwood mutters. “Last time I checked,” she replies. “Then sit back and act like one,” Eastwood orders, snatching the check. In another scene, Coogan declines to sleep with a woman who fancies him. The woman responds by angrily declaring that Coogan must be gay (though she doesn't exactly put it that delicately). This movie certainly was made in 1968.

Naturally, the whole thing concludes with a violent, action-packed climax, which gives Siegel another opportunity to demonstrate that he knows how to stage an action scene. Still, the climax is less interesting than the coda, which once again inspires comparisons to the aforementioned Inherent Vice. It's a strange, sweet, unexpected moment of cross-cultural bonding that defies everything which has preceded it – perhaps the movie's way of gently acknowledging that we'd all be better off if we try to get along with each other despite our philosophical differences. If you approach Coogan's Bluff with a similarly forgiving spirit, you'll have a good time.

Coogan's Bluff

Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Year: 1968