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Electra Glide In Blue
USA 1973
Directed by James William Guercio
Running time 112 minutes
Rated M
4 stars


James William Guercio’s one and only film (he was the original director for the 1980 Steve McQueen film, Tom Horn), tells the story of  a motorcycle cop, John Wintergreen (Robert Blake), patrolling the empty highway around Scottsdale, Arizona. He dreams of becoming a detective and when he finds a man dead in a shack along his turf, Wintergreen is convinced it is murder. The chief detective, Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan) agrees and makes him his partner. It seems that Wintergreen’s dream has come true but things turn sour very quickly.

Guercio was a trained musician (he was a one-time guitarist with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention) and arranger and also manager for jazz-rock band Chicago, members of which appear in the film (along with an uncredited Nick Nolte in only his second feature film appearance). He was also a huge fan of John Ford. His film has that rare quality that comes only from a director who although film savvy has not been schooled in the conventions of film-making  - an pervasive offbeat quality, which in this case, perfectly suits the estranged physical and psychological landscape of the story. That screenwriter Robert Boris was also a first-timer also no doubt helped.

Rather oddly it was nominated for a Cannes Golden Palm Award but was pilloried in its day as a fascistic retort to the hippie classic Easy Rider (1968). In these less partisan times we can see that this is not the case but rather that is an attempt to capture complexities and contradictions of its emblematically American characters and milieu, an environment which has been explore many time since, notably by the Coen brothers. The outstanding closing song, “God Bless America”, written by Guercio and sung by Chicago lead singer Terry Kath in this respect has an ironic tinge.

In the lead Robert Blake, who would go on to become a household name in the television series Baretta, is excellent as John Wintergreen, a short man who takes himself very seriously, his anomalous stature being one of the most immediately offbeat characteristic of the film which is full of eccentric characters - Mitchell Ryan as Poole, detective, Billy 'Green' Bush as Wintregreen’s abusive partner, Jeannine Riley as an aging barmaid having separate affairs with both Wintergreen and Poole, not to mention veteran character actors ,Royal Dano and Elisha Cook Jr. as a couple of old timers.

Whilst Guercio was a novice he was smart enough to hire Conrad Hall (In Cold Blood, which also starred Blake, Cool Hand Luke, both 1967 and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, 1969) as DOP and this gives the film a highly professional look that counterbalances its more eccentric qualities and makes seeing it in widescreen mandatory. Whilst there is a motorcycle chase which looks rather clumsy in parts and is rather dated in execution, its opening sequence one of the best you’ll ever see

All up, Electra Glide In Blue is one of the unrecognized gems of  American film making of the period.

FYI: Blake, who had had a troubled family history was arrested and charged with the murder of his second wife in 2002 and was acquitted in 2005.

DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, Interview with the director.

Available from: Shock Entertainment

 

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