Coogan's Bluff ★★★★

Daylight Cowboy
Hunting a prey
In a foreign territory.
Where the old manners fail
A fist can do the job.

J. Hoberman notes that Coogan’s Bluff should not be seen as an accurate portrayal of New York in the 1960s, but instead an “outsider’s riff.” Such a description quells my anxiety about some of the film’s geographical jumps, most notably a conversation that begins on 103rd and Lexington and jumps to the park outside the Cloisters without skipping a beat (for non-New Yorkers, that’s about a 20 minute cab ride). Otherwise, this feels quite major for Siegel, more ideologically ambivalent and cautious than the much more directly conservative Dirty Harry. Begins as almost a pure Western, with one of the oddest placement of credits (imagine if Leone cut to a song and overlayed credits just as the train was coming into the station in Once Upon a Time in The West), before cutting harshly to the concrete jungle where Eastwood’s Coogan knows the score well enough to recognize the play, but not enough to stop it (the Bloomingdale’s line with the cab driver is just the first of many humorous moments). Coogan is obviously an outsider, but what the film shows is that his “Western” ideology doesn’t make him necessarily unequipped—he simply doesn’t understand at first how to hunt his prey.

Siegel is both a top down and a bottom up visual style of guy, which makes him my kind of guy. Love things like the tender long take as Coogan leaves the apartment of his love interest, while the final motorcycle chase puts Coogan back in the plains of Texas—I mean, Arizona—with those close-ups down and low on the motorcycle, which might as well be the hooves of horses. The ending suggests much more a merging of two ideologies that meshes the beurucratic approach with Coogan’s vigilantism. Lee J. Cobb might still demand that release statement from the Supreme Court judge, but he’s also willing to give a man his hat back.

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