Electra Glide in Blue
Distributed By: United Artists
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Once upon a time, a friend and fellow co-worker received a box of 70s era movies for his birthday. One day, he started telling me about one of the films. I was interested in the film because it starred Robert Blake. I am not a fan of Robert Blake the person, but as an actor, I have enjoyed a couple of his past appearances in movies like In Cold Blood and as the lead actor on the television series Beretta. One day, my buddy shows up with the DVD in hand and thus began my adventure into Electra Glide in Blue.
John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is an Arizona motorcycle cop looking for something more. Since coming back from Vietnam in 1968, Wintergreen has performed his job to the best of his ability, enforcing the law with a firm but honest hand, despite the antics of Zipper (Billy Green Bush), his dirty partner. His dream of becoming a homicide detective has yet to come to fruition, but John is persistent, submitting application after application. It isn’t until a local vagrant named Crazy Willie (Elisha Cook) points him toward a dead body that John Wintergreen gets his shot at becoming a detective. But as Wintergreen begins his foray into what he believes is the thinking man’s side of law enforcement, will he like what he sees or will he discover that the grass is always greener in somebody else’s yard?
Released in 1973, Electra Glide in Blue was hated at the Cannes Film Festival, but earned critical acclaim in its nationwide release. The film was a low budget rookie outing for producer James Willliam Guercio who also directed the film and composed its musical score. Given a one million dollar budget on his first foray into movies (He is best known for his successes in the music industry as a musician and producer for such bands as Chicago. You’ll notice some Chicago songs on the soundtrack and some band members with small parts in the film.), Guercio was determined to make this film based upon a real life Arizona motorcycle cop succeed. He hired a top-notch cinematographer in Conrad Hall, paying him his director salary to ensure that the film had a terrific look to it. This of course meant that Guercio only made a total of one dollar to create this film, a fact that he seems incredibly proud of.
Thinking back to the 70s films I watched as a kid, the script was fairly on par with most cop movies of the era. That is to say, it wasn’t exactly clever, but there were some memorable lines here and there, mostly spoken by Robert Blake’s character. I could relate to Wintergreen’s character in that he believed in treating everyone fairly and applying his own morals to his everyday work. I could relate to his view of his partner who had no sense of dedication to his job and no desire to better his career. I work with people like this every day – people who have no dreams and no drive. Thus, I can understand his frustration. And yet, there is no bitterness there – no animosity shown by Wintergreen toward people like Zipper…only sadness at what they have become.e.
The movie was big on cinematography, so much so that it often took the film over making the storyline a secondary thing. Filmed in Monument Valley, there certainly was a great deal of beautiful scenery to film, but sometimes you had the idea that the creators of this film were more interested in visual effects rather than the story itself.
Being a film of the 70s, Electra Glide in Blue touched upon quite a few issues of the era. First, you had the veterans of Vietnam returning from war, many lost and struggling for a way to fit back into society. Second, there were the hippies and the rampant disdain for their looks and actions. Then there was the changing politics in the police department. Drugs were another issue as was rebellion towards authority figures. And then there were the motorcycles – so many movies back then featured them and they were all the rage at the time. In fact, the film actually shares its name with a motorcycle – the Electra Glide.
But the main theme of this film was loneliness. It was everywhere and featured best in the cinematography as beautiful, but lonely desert roads. Script-wise, there was the loneliness of Crazy Willie, alone with the insane thoughts inside his head. There was the loneliness of Zipper whose best friend…perhaps his only real friend…was his motorcycle and his gun. There was the loneliness of Wintergreen’s girlfriend whose promising career vanished when she fell in love with a salesman, only to lose him shortly after they got together and the loneliness of the detective whose greatest passion comes from his work, so much so that nothing else can compare. But the greatest loneliness is found in John Wintergreen, an honest man with honest hopes and dreams in a world turning more dishonest and disenchanting by the moment.
I actually enjoyed Electra Glide in Blue, despite it being a low budget, independently run film with more focus on cinematography than story. The film brought back memories of some of the great motorcycle films I watched as a kid – Easy Rider, ‘Nam’s Angels (aka: The Losers)…hell, even Serpico had a motorcycle. There was a storyline there, if you ignored the poorly written lines in the script and paid attention to the underlying meaning. I will caution anyone who will decide to view this film in DVD format – don’t watch the introduction by James William Guerico until the end. If you don’t heed my advice, the ending of the film will be ruined for you before it even begins. But do watch it – there are a lot of interesting tidbits to be learned in the intro.