Robert Blake stars in the tale of an Arizona cop navigating a world of isolation and compromise
This month Electra Glide in Blue (1973) is making its return to home video, thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The film previously had a Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, which has since gone out of print.
Arizona cop John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) spends his days patrolling the highways with his partner Zipper (Billy Bush) on Harley-Davidson Electra Glide motorcycles, but what he really wants is to become a proper detective — a simple ambition to lose the blues, put on a suit, and get paid for thinking instead of doling out speeding tickets.
Despite his intelligence, assertiveness, and drive, he’s frequently met with dismissal, in part at least because of his diminutive height. A head shorter than average, Wintergreen’s small stature undermines his ambition.
When Wintergreen and Zipper come upon the scene of an apparent suicide, tipped off by a local mental patient (legendary character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. in one of his most unusual roles) the aspiring detective sees his chance, disagreeing with the coroner’s open-shut assessment and noting clues that seem to indicate the death was a murder. His gambit pays off, capturing the interest of seasoned Det. Harvey Poole (Mitchell Ryan), who sees his potential and takes him underwing, promoting him to join the investigation. But the actualization of Wintergreen’s dream doesn’t live up to his hopes, for this is a path fraught with corruption, compromise, and conflict.
Some of the film’s most interesting ideas are wrapped up in its treatment of hippies, whom the cops routinely harass and hassle. The film is in part an answer to Easy Rider, and not subtly so: Wintergreen even uses a picture of that film’s protagonists for target practice. Even the “good cop” harbors some prejudice, though his observations of how the hippies are unfairly treated by his fellow cops gives him pause.
The film’s open-expanse vistas along the desert highways and rural zones of Arizona show off some beautiful and majestic cinematography (including scenes in Monument Valley), while also tapping into the deep sense of isolation that fuels not only our protagonist but several characters in the film.
A strange movie, Electra Glide juggles some different notes — a high-concept idea, often rather dark and tragic, yet oddly humorous and ironic. First-time director James William Guercio (who also composed the film’s score) explores the idea of police work as fascism, while also showing the struggle of a conscientious cop struggling against a bad system.
Kino’s release features a slipcover and reversible case art. The disc ports over the extras from the Shout! Factory disc, and adds some new supplements of its own.
Special Features and Extras
- Audio Commentary by screenwriter Robert Boris, with Alex Van Dyne
- Audio Commentary by director/producer/composer James William Guercio
- “My Religion is Myself” (9:46) — Interview with actor Mitchell Ryan
- “”Easy Writer” (13:43) — Interview with screenwriter Robert Boris
Boris describes how the story was formed out of his own experience as a hippie biker who encountered a real life event that became the spark for his screenplay.
- Introduction by James William Guercio (9:36) — director intros are typically short and fluffy, but Guercio goes pretty deep on his experience making the film, including how the film’s reception, how he famously donated his director’s salary in order to bring on veteran cinematographer Conrad Hall, and pointing out a young Nick Nolte among the extras.
- Theatrical Trailer (3:36)
- TV Spot (1:01)
- Radio Spot (:30)
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.