Sunday, March 26, 2017

McCloud (1970)

          While not a direct continuation of the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan’s Bluff (1968), popular TV detective series McCloud was inspired by that film, hence Herman Miller’s credits as screenwriter of the Eastwood picture and creator of the TV series. Both projects employ the novel image of a cowboy cop transplanted to New York City, solving crimes with frontier toughness, old-fashioned common sense, and a warm charm that drives cosmopolitan women wild. Right from this first episode, which is sometimes known by the titles “Portrait of a Dead Girl” and “Who Killed Miss U.S.A.?,” star Dennis Weaver cuts a striking image, his tall frame swathed in a sheepskin coat and capped by a cowboy hat. Yet Marshal Sam McCloud of Taos, New Mexico, is not portrayed as a bumpkin. Quite to the contrary, he’s a tireless investigator whose courtly manners disguise an agile mind.
          The notion is that because he’s free of big-city hangups and pretentions, he sees things more clearly than his metropolitan counterparts, spotting holes in theories, logic problems in alibis, and omissions from crime reports. It’s worth nothing that he’s also smooth with the ladies, because one of this pilot film’s most enjoyable scenes is an exchange of erotic banter between Weaver and leading lady Diana Muldaur.
          Nonetheless, despite being cowritten by the reliable team of Richard Levinson and William Link, the first McCloud mystery isn’t especially memorable beyond the effective introduction of the protagonist. After capturing a fugitive in New Mexico, McCloud escorts his prisoner to New York, where the man is set to testify in a high-profile murder case. Criminals posing as cops kidnap the prisoner, compelling McCloud  to recapture the man and therefore restore his dignity as a lawman. This leads McCloud to explore the facts of the murder case, in which a Latino busboy stands accused of murdering a white beauty queen. Naturally, McCloud discovers problems with evidence incriminating the busboy and makes his way, slowly but surely, toward the identity of the real killer. Accompanying the marshal through his first New York adventure is Chris Coughlin (Muldaur), writer of a best-selling book about the case. At various times, McCloud encounters an activist priest, a jaded fashion model, a morally ambiguous lawyer, and other big-city types who provide stark contrast to the plain-talking protagonist.
          Even though the story underwhelms, the film is quite watchable. The acting is slick (watch forRaul Julia as the priest and Julie Newmar, of all people, as the model), while director Richard A. Colla gives everything an expensive look with blurry foreground objects and fluid camera moves. As for Weaver, he's in the zone from start to finish, channeling an aw-shucks Gary Cooper vibe without ever seeming artificial or cloying. Although McCloud never became a proper weekly series—like Columbo and McMillan and Wife, it aired as a series of telefilms—the franchise captured the public’s imagination, running from 1970 to 1977. Weaver reprised the role for 1989’s The Return of Sam McCloud.

McCloud: FUNKY

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