Coogan’s Bluff (1968): Eastwood First Collaboration with Don Siegel (Dirty Harry)

In Clint Eastwood’s first collaboration with Don Siegel, he plays Walt Coogan, a deputy sheriff from Arizona sent to New York City to extradite an escaped criminal named Ringerman (Don Stroud).

Situated between his Spaghetti Westerns for Sergio Leone and the “Dirty Harry” series, “Coogan’s Bluff” is a significant transitional film in Eastwood’s career and screen image. Made at the height of the Vietnam War, the film also reflects the decline of American citizens’ beliefs in the efficiency of the police force (i.e. the government) to deal with the escalating urban crime.

The narrative, which could be described as an urban Western (a classic Western in disguise), unfolds as an extended hunt, but while Ringerman’s is Coogan’s quarry, the central conflict is between Coogan and the New York police. The officer in charge of the case, Lt. McElroy (Lee J. Cobb) is unsympathetic to Coogan. He first tries to force Coogan to conform to his rules and procedures, then tries to take him off the case altogether.

McElroy tells Coogan, “You’re out of your league. We got 28,000 cops in the city. You leave Ringerman to us.” When Coogan refuses, claiming it’s a matter of honor to recapture the criminal, McElroy responds with mockery: “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, that it, Wyatt” McElroy’s sarcastic reference to the heroic ideal of the Old West highlights the basic conflict around which the action is structured.

Independent and self-reliant, Coogan is the embodiment of the simpler, freer social order of the old frontier, forced to confront a bureaucracy that’s concerned only with enforcing its own rigid rules. That system is embodied by McElroy, an organization man who behaves by-the-book. In his conflict with Coogan and his contemptuous, patronizing attitude toward him, McElroy anticipates the more explicit attack on formal authority and red-tape bureaucracy in the “Dirty Harry” film series, which began in 1971.

Credits

MPAA: R.
Running time: 93 Minutes.

Produced and directed by Don Siegel
Screenplay: Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, and Howard Rodman, based on Miller’s story
Camera; Bud Thackery
Editor: Sam E. Waxman
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Art Director: Alexander Golitzen, Robert MacKichan
Costumes: Helen Colvig

Cast

Coogan (Clint Eastwood)
McElroy (Lee J. Cobb)
Ringerman (Don Stroud)
Mrs. Ringerman (Betty Field)
Sheriff McCrea (Tom Tully)
Julie (Susan Clark)
Lina Raven (Tisha Sterling)
Millie (Melodie Johnson)
Jackson (James Edwards)
Runing Bear (Rudy Diaz)