Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be discussing the birth of Clint Eastwood’s American movie star persona in Coogan’s Bluff, coming to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
After reinventing himself in the Spaghetti Western genre overseas, Eastwood participated in many fruitful collaborations with director Don Siegel, Coogan’s Bluff being the first, which would eventually lead to them making Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, and Escape from Alcatraz.
“All right now, I don’t like violence, Mr. Wonderful whatever your name is. You better drop that blade, or you won’t believe what happens next, even while it’s happening.” – Coogan
Like a good catchy melody, the tune to Coogan’s Bluff isn’t too complex, but the arrangement and execution make for a rather fun time.
Coogan (Clint Eastwood) is a take-no-frills deputy sheriff from Arizona. Think a rural prototype of what he would further develop with his “Harry Callahan” character. He’s sent to New York City to extradite a young criminal wanted for murder, portrayed by Don Stroud (Django Unchained) and our fish-out-of-water story unfolds after letting his prisoner on LSD escape alongside his deranged hippie girlfriend (Tisha Sterling). There aren’t many set pieces in this film that truly standout, but one that absolutely does is a psychedelic nightclub where Coogan hunts down his prisoner’s accomplice. Cinematographer Bud Thackery captures the vibrant atmosphere and utilizes the strobe-lit background to surreal effect. There’s even footage from ‘50s silence fiction schlock Tarantula, which happens to be Eastwood’s second film role, and with it being projected in the mix adds a hallucinogenic layer to establish Coogan being out of his element.
Don Siegel is clearly finding his voice as a filmmaker here and the tone isn’t always consistent. There’re hit and miss comedic one-liners from Coogan that don’t always land, but some do. This of course could lie more in fault with the screenplay by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, and Howard Rodman, but emitting the material that doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the film would have worked better for maintaining a coherent tonal identity. When a cab driver tries to dupe him for some extra fare, Coogan points out they passed Bloomingdales’s on more than one occasion, after the driver retorts he’s still owed two ninety-five, Coogan replies deadpan “Here’s three dollars, including the tip.” There’s also an ongoing gag of the city cops mistaking him for being a Texan which wears thin after a while, but the chase that takes up the bulk of the film is pure Siegel, full of machismo and adrenaline. Composer Lalo Schifrin (The Amityville Horror) is a welcome asset when Coogan is on the move and his score, which ramps up the climactic motorcycle chase, pushes it even further. The offbeat romantic subplot between Coogan and a probation officer he meets at the precinct doesn’t entirely work, but there’s no denying the natural charm of Susan Clark (Porky’s) who makes the most of what she’s given to work with.
This all feels thematically in-line with what Eastwood and Siegel’s repertoire would further develop into with other projects and establish Eastwood’s iconic persona many have come to know and love. Like a ragged James Dean with a wisecracking gruff and a John Wayne disposition. Somehow, in spite of some of the misguided tonal choices and the underdeveloped romantic thread, this film manages to be an entertaining crime thriller with eccentric appeal that offers a gritty examination of hippie culture a year before the Manson murders took place. Furthermore, Coogan’s Bluff is a thrilling allegory of the clash between Wild West idealism and city corruption set in the midst of a cultural revolution on the cusp of culmination.
Coogan’s Bluff Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Alex Cox
- NEW Audio Commentary by Sledge Hammer! Creator Alan Spencer
- NEW Interview with Actor Don Stroud
- Radio Spot
- Theatrical Teaser in HD
- Theatrical Trailer in HD
- Poster & Image Gallery
- Reversible Art
- Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber on August 3rd, 2021.