May 27, 2011

Electra Glide In Blue (1973)

Directed by James William Guercio. Starring Robert Blake ("John Wintergreen"), Billy Green Bush ("Zipper"), Mitch Ryan ("Harve Poole"), and Jeannine Riley ("Jolene"). Rated PG. Body Count: 3. Boob Count: 0.

Source: Region 1 DVD (MGM Home Entertainment)
Run time: 01:52:50
Country: USA


John Wintergreen is a strict Arizona highway patrolman whose by-the-book mentality may or may not stem from his tendency to compensate for his short stature. He's a short man indeed, but he carries himself like the tallest man in the world: cocky, confident, and bold. Following an opening credits sequence that bears a resemblance to a number of scenes from Kenneth Anger's SCORPIO RISING, Wintergreen is introduced in an almost epic fashion as he emerges from a garage in slow motion with his full biker gear on: helmet, aviators, leather jacket, biker boots, the whole shebang. It's revealed sooner than later that Wintergreen wants to transfer to homicide and become a detective, but his numerous attempts and requests seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Along with his buddy and fellow patrolman Zipper, Wintergeen spends most of the film's first act pulling people over and establishing himself as a someone that can be seen as either: A) someone who does their job with integrity, or B) someone who takes their job a little too seriously. If you think about it, they're both one in the same, but it all depends on who you ask. Zipper is a great contrast to the seemingly uptight Wintergreen. When he's not slacking and parked under a shady area to protect himself from the desert heat, he's harassing hippies and abusing his power. The film transitions nicely into the second act when a golden opportunity arises for Wintergreen.

Just when his hopes of joining the homicide department seem to be dashed, he and Zipper find a distraught and mentally-troubled local out in the middle of the desert who's babbling incoherently. Turns out his friend committed suicide in his cabin, so Wintergreen seizes the opportunity to examine the body and take notes. By the time the coroner arrives (played by my grandpa, Royal Dano), our superstar highway patrolman has come to the conclusion that the suicide was in fact a murder. Luckily for him, the Tommy Lee Jones-ish homicide detective who arrives on the scene also agrees that it;s a homicide someone's covering up. Impressed, the detective utilizes Wintergreen as his personal driver for the duration of the case, giving him an opportunity to learn the ropes.

Long story short, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, turns into part police procedural and part character study. The homicide case proves to be an eye-opening experience for Wintergreen, but not the type he expected.

ELECTRA GLIDE is a character-driven piece, so there's not much going on as far as the plot. It's a very "Americana" and somewhat existential '70s film, and a product of its time. I mentioned Kenneth Anger earlier, but I noticed a bit of Russ Meyer in this as well. The Meyer influence in the film is probably too subtle for most people to notice (or at least for the casual viewer), but the two separate sequences in the film that appear to be directly inspired by SCORPIO RISING are almost too blatant to ignore if you're familiar with the work of Anger. Director James William Guercio doesn't acknowledge either in the film's commentary track, so it's hard to know for sure if he was inspired by any of those filmmakers, but he does point out scenes in the film in which he tried to capture the essence of an old American Western. That being said, the old-school Western sensibilities are indeed very noticeable, even to someone like myself who's not the biggest fan of the genre.

So, while it's not the most exciting movie out there, ELECTRA GLIDE is still a damn fine piece of American cinema. The characters are so well-established that it becomes easy to invest in them. Personally, even at almost two-hours in length, I didn't want the film to end when the time came because I loved the characters so much. The filmmaking here is also top-notch. The score, which was composed by the director himself, was a bit odd and seemed out of place at first, but it's ultimately one of the things that gives the film a unique atmosphere. Also worth mentioning are the great ending (a new entry to my list of all-time favorite endings) and the utterly impressive stunt sequences that would make Brian Trenchard-Smith stand up and raise the roof. Be on the lookout for the band Chicago (and their roadies) in the film as a bunch of hippies. If you have eagle eyes, you might even spot Nick Nolte in the background at some point (I didn't).

Score: 7.5

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