Deputy sheriff Clint Eastwood stalks a middle-aged Navajo fugitive in the battered Arizona hills; the desperado collared, taciturn Eastwood leaves him cuffed to the front porch so he can nuzzle the bosom of tawny Melodie Johnson. It could be the Old West, only this is 1968 (Manny Farber spotted a 2001: A Space Odyssey parody in the opening skirmish), and the big city awaiting the transplanted cowboy is New York. Don Siegel's New York, to be exact, the same surveyed earlier that year in Madigan but dirtier, more countercultural -- Eastwood gets shanghaied from his honey's wooden bathtub to groovy Big Apple to be harassed by cabbies, floozies, fairies, LSD freaks, and long-haired hipsters. A roll-call of suburban busyness bounced by the wily director off his leading man's ramrod calm for wry alienation, especially in scenes with continuously pissed-off police commissioner Lee J. Cobb, and Betty Field, who, playing the razzing mom of Eastwood's prey (Don Stroud), essays a bravura expansion of Bus Stop brassiness. Bureaucracy and the a-changin' times get in the way, but this hero (hackled as "Wyatt," "Buffalo Bill," "Tex," etc.) remains both old-school in his determination and, as befits Siegel's ambivalence towards lone wolves working within the system, casual in his law-bending (the bluff of the title is exercised to spring Stroud from Bellevue, although cop-impersonating lands Eastwood himself in jail). The stranded Westerner locates hippie chick Tisha Sterling, Stroud's girl, at the "Pigeon-Toed Orange Peel" psychedelic freak-out, one of various touches introducing the Age of Aquarius into Siegel's classical mise-en-scène: a zoom into a jeep's bullet-cracked windshield, distorting lens following a bushwacking, a POV held upside-down. The nocturnal ascending crane lyrically oversees Eastwood into his drab motel following rejection from probation officer Susan Clark, later repeated to point him toward a poolroom ambush, One snazzily edited motorcycle chase later, and they're reconciled in inaudible long-shot, just in time for Clark to wave off Eastwood and Stroud, outsiders with only the law dividing them, back into the West. With Tom Tully, James Edwards, Rudy Diaz, and David Doyle.
--- Fernando F. Croce