Friday, 30 January 2009

Coogan's Bluff

I was very surprised by this film, coming so soon after the Dollars trilogy and recommended frequently, by reputable sources, as a transition between The Man With No Name and Dirty Harry. It is poorly scripted - and I mean the sort of dialogue and plot developments you would expect in a children's programme - and very naive, as if its portrayal of New York comes from a holiday brochure.

Clint Eastwood plays rule breakin', deputy sheriff, Walt Coogan from Arizona, sent to collect a prisoner from New York. After deceiving the NYPD into releasing him into his custody, the prisoner escapes. Coogan then proceeds to break more rules in his pursuit of him though the city.

We see the cliché's of New York paraded before us, and sixties staples are ticked off. The hippy club, the promiscuous and damaged teen, the unreasonable senior police officers... When you consider that this police fantasy was made in the same year as Bullitt, and Sergio Leone had gone on to make Once Upon a Time in the West, this film is inexcusable.

The plot is simply there to serve as a vehicle for Eastwood. It panders to the image his fans want to see, portraying him as a loose cannon who has to beat off the girls with a pointy stick. The prisoner is basically a MacGuffin - totally dropping out of the storyline until needed for a chase scene near the end - and any pretence at detective work merely moves Coogan from standard scene to the next - pool room fight, interlude with attractive woman, hooker in hotel room.

Interesting that its director, Don Siegel, would go on to make such films such as The Shootist and Escape from Alcatraz, and Dean Riesner, one of the two writers, would pen High Planes Drifter and Play Misty for Me. Coincidently, both worked on Dirty Harry as well. On the other hand, Herman Miller, the other writer, had as his last writing credit an episode of MacGyver, after dabbling in Knight Rider territory; do you think we found the weak link?

One thing in the film's favour though, was the excellent closing shot on the helipad. Framed and directed with aplomb, we then see the city retreat from view as Eastwood travels back to his natural habitat. Sadly, the direction of the film has this same picture postcard detachment from its stars, both human and geographic.