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Coogan's Bluff (Blu-ray Review)

19 May, 2014 By: Mike Clark

Koch Media
$20 All-Region Blu-ray
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Clint Eastwood, Lee J. Cobb, Susan Clark, Don Stroud.

For anyone who came late to those Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns that did a lot more for Clint Eastwood’s career (or at least “Rawhide”-alternative career) than his 1962 guest shot on “Mr. Ed,” this amusingly trashy sociopath-out-of-water melodrama made it clear at the time that here was a new kind of screen protagonist, at least among those who had worked their way to top-billing.

Arriving shortly after the newly reconstituted Clint launched a fresh Hollywood persona with Hang ‘Em High — a movie that helped pay a lot of drive-in mortgages in summer 1968 — here he was in the fall getting that same psychotically crazed look in his eye that had contributed mightily to his “Man With No Name” notoriety. In Coogan’s Bluff, it surfaces when he attempts to shove a pool ball down the throat of a not particularly tough-looking assailant (one of several who’ve ill advisedly just attacked him in a boozy dive where the restrooms probably aren’t too clean). He also, in another scene, comes perilously close to busting a mentally shaky hippie chick played by Tisha Sterling smack in the chops after she has set him up to get pummeled. What kind of big-screen hero did this kind of stuff, other than maybe Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly when he was slamming Percy Helton’s fingers in a desk drawer?

The picture, whose production was set up in the glow of the Leone films before Hang ‘Em High began to shoot, was controversial in its day over its violence quotient. Of course, this wasn’t altogether surprising given the participation of director Don Siegel, who’d just three years earlier parlayed his very loose take on Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers into one of the screen’s higher mortality tallies this side of Hamlet. Siegel’s on-and-off prime spanned 1954’s Riot in Cell Block 11 through somewhere just a little past 1971’s Dirty Harry, and at this point he was more or less in the groove — having just turned earlier-’68’s Madigan into one of the best cop movies ever and probably the best movie of that year to have been uncelebrated at the time. Immediate follow-up Bluff’s wall-to-wall trashiness guaranteed that it would never be as admired by even auteurist-minded film critics, but TV was looking, and the basic premise here eventually propelled NBC’s “McCloud” to a healthy network run before very long. “McCloud” star Dennis Weaver could “do” demented (he can easily be playing Norman Bates’s first cousin when he skulks around that motel in Touch of Evil), but he certainly couldn’t convey brutality the way Clint could.

To this end, and following some on-the-job bathtub fornication back home, we see Arizona deputy sheriff Coogan/Eastwood decking a peroxided creep played by Seymour Cassel in a New York City police precinct after the latter places his hand on the breast of a parole officer (Susan Clark) and notes to the lawman stranger that there’s plenty to go around for both of them. But why is Coogan so far away from home in the first place? Well, it seems that a murder suspect who needs extraditing (Don Stroud) is holed up in upper Manhattan, and the desert locals need to get him on a plane back to the desert. This leads me to a true story about the time that a friend called me at home long-distance a few decades back to say, “I want you to know that I just saw Don Stroud on ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.’” Well, in terms of what Coogan has to go through assimilating himself to the Apple, one situation no more incongruous than the other.

Just about every Universal movie from the second half of the ’60s looked like a TV show, and it’s instructive to compare Bluff with what Siegel was able to do with the same lead actor in Dirty Harry at Warner just three years later with a studio that was willing to foot the bill for some production values. Almost everything here but the opening and climax is done on a set, though the motorcycle chase that wraps up the action is fairly decent for its day (though Bullitt would open just two weeks later to redefine the rules for this kind of thing).

No. 2 of the three Eastwood-Siegels (1971’s twisted-sister Civil War drama The Beguiled) is one of the few from this Universal period not to have yet gotten either an American or foreign region Blu-ray release, though some of the Eastwoods from that time have gotten both. In the case of Bluff, I shelled out the money to get this All-Region German release, though I’m pretty sure it follows the unfortunate lead of the American DVD (per Wikipedia) in having trimmed as many as three brief scenes from the original that had been retained for the long-ago VHS release (why do these things happen?). Otherwise, the Technicolor is a little punchier than the DVD’s, and there’s enough grain to satisfy grain fanciers but not enough to repel those not in the club. So here it is: an early chance to get a hi-def rendering of a movie that still tickles my junk buttons and satisfies anyone’s need to hear the psychedelic Pigeon-Toed Orange Peel one more time during the movie’s rather exuberantly staged disco scene from a time tunnel when Richard Nixon was just a month away from being elected president for the first time.


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