Monday, January 25, 2010

Underrated Movie #22: Electra Glide in Blue

Title: Electra Glide in Blue
Year: 1973
Director: James William Guerico
Writers: Robert Boris, from a story by Boris and Rupert Hitzig
Stars: Robert Blake (In Cold Blood), Billy Green Bush, Mitchell Ryan, Jeannine Riley

The Story: An ostracized Arizona motorcycle cop, tired of hassling hippies on the highways, dreams of becoming a homicide detective. When he calls attention to a faked suicide, he thinks he's gotten his chance.

How it Came to be Underrated: The title sounds like porn, but the plot description sounded reactionary at the time. The movie is neither, but Guerico, who had already made his money as a hippie music producer, was happy to let everybody think the wrong thing. Once the producers realized that this was too smart to be a drive-in movie, they sent it over to Cannes, where it got booed off the screen for being too pro-cop. In other words, the movie got caught in the same double-bind as Blake’s character, which proved Guerico’s point the hard way.

Why It’s Great:

  1. The movie begins with Blake ticketing an L.A. detective passing through Arizona, oblivious to the unwritten rule that says he’s supposed to let this one go. Then he tickets a fellow vet, refusing to cut him a break. But it was the next scene that got all the attention: At the police shooting range, Blake practices by plugging a picture of the guys from Easy Rider full of holes. Who is this guy? It’s a tough, unflinching portrayal of someone who’s not a paragon of any one virtue, but rather a speed-bump being worn down by the wheels of change.
  2. Guerico gave up his own salary to hire great cinematographer Conrad Hall (Cool Hand Luke, Fat City), but then he shocked Hall by saying that he wanted to make this a modern version of John Ford’s The Searchers, which had exactly the kind of technicolor lyricism that Hall had led a revolt against. Guerico’s father had been a projectionist who showed Ford movies over and over when the theater was closed. Eventually, he won Hall over and together they turned this into a stunning widescreen fable about closed minds on the open road.
  3. But while it has one foot in the past, it was also on the cutting edge for its time. What other cop movie would show a straight police officer finding fetishistic joy in strapping on his leathers? This was John Ford by way of Kenneth Anger.
  4. This movie also deserves a lot of credit for giving two of the last good roles to classic character actors Royal Dano (The Red Badge of Courage) and Elisha Cook, Jr. (The Maltese Falcon). They get a fine send off.

Underrated Compared To: This movie has shades of Dirty Harry and Taxi Driver, both of which became cultural phenomena, but I say it's better than either one.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Another great story about working stiffs frozen out of the cultural progress of the ‘70s was Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar.

How Available Is It?: On dvd only, with a thoughtful intro and commentary by Guerico.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Flower Love!


christinembird said...

See also Copland, a film in which Sylvester Stallone is chief of police in a small town in the NYC exurbs. The NYPD who live there expect to break the law with impunity.

Matt Bird said...

Yeah, I liked Copland a lot. I should see that one again.