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Electra Glide in Blue(1973)
An Arizona motorcycle cop gets his wish and is promoted to the homicide unit following the mysterious murder of a hermit. He is forced to confront his illusions about himself and those around him in order to solve the case.
For more about Electra Glide in Blue and the Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray release, see Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 4, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Robert Blake, Mitchell Ryan, Elisha Cook, Jr., Billy Green Bush, Royal Dano, Peter Cetera
Director: James William Guercio
» See full cast & crew
Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 4, 2013
If your mind's eye can only see the name James William Guercio scrawled in quasi-cursive writing, two things are immediately evident: you're a fan of the band Chicago and you actually read the credits on albums, where Guercio's name appeared on a string of Chicago releases (always in that quasi-cursive font) as producer. Guercio was arguably one of the hottest producers in American music in 1973, which is probably at least one reason he easily matriculated into both the producer's and director's chair for Electra Glide in Blue, a film which was absolutely pilloried at the time of its release but which has gone on to achieve a certain cult status, whether deserved or not. The film now has the added "baggage", which may in fact only increase its cult potential, for starring erstwhile Our Gang kid actor Robert Blake, who has of course gone on to greater fame as the "star" of a sordid murder drama featuring his second wife Bonnie Lee Bakley. If Blake presaged the huge scandal which enveloped him late in life with his turn as a ruthless killer in the film adaptation of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, he proved his versatility by essaying a character on the "right" side of the law in Electra Glide in Blue, a film that may have come just a bit too late in the still burgeoning independent film explosion of the late sixties and early seventies to really connect with a mainstream audience. There's little doubt that the iconic Easy Rider informed at least parts of screenwriter Robert Boris' tale of a cop with dreams of—well, something better than what he already has. Not only is there is omnipresent romance of the motorcycle culture at work in Electra Glide in Blue, there's an obvious nod toward the counterculture movement (it might be a bit too past the heyday of the "hippie" movement to classify it as such), not to mention a climax that bears more than a little in common with the Dennis Hopper film.
Robert Blake always had a rather interesting persona in his younger adult career, and in fact the stories of his erratic behavior on the set of his detective series Baretta are legion (that "difficult" temperament evidently has continued, as Blake apparently opted out of a proposed commentary for this Blu-ray release). There was a sort of "simmering pot about to explode" feeling lurking just beneath the surface of his portrayals that served him very well, at least in films like In Cold Blood, where it was all too easy to believe Blake's character could have committed such atrocities. That same just slightly menacing quality is somewhat altered in Electra Glide in Blue, to largely positive effect. Blake portrays John Wintergreen, a motorcycle cop in rural Arizona who has ambitions of moving up the ranks into detective class. Blake's intensity, mixed with a sort of outsider's longing and pathos, makes Wintergreen's desires viscerally believable, especially after Wintergreen becomes convinced that a supposed suicide might have a more sinister aspect.
Guercio talks about being a huge fan of John Ford in the supplements on this Blu-ray, and that love is rather subtly in evidence in the rather brilliantly staged montage that opens the film. Set to an old phonograph record playing music from Ford's Stagecoach, we see what appears to be someone preparing to commit suicide. However, there's the strange element of two pork chops being fried, and after the deadly shot is fired, we see someone eating that meat—so what gives?
The real homage to Ford begins with the rest of the film, which opens on a loving shot of Ford's Monument Valley, albeit with a highway aimed straight at the viewer. We soon meet motorcycle cop John Wintergreen (Robert Blake), who plies the back roads of Arizona tracking down the lawless—which means speeders or truckers violating a five axle rule. Over the first half hour of the film in fact establishes the fact that John is basically a good guy, although a no nonsense cop who doesn't really shirk from handing out tickets to either hoity toity Los Angeles detectives or returning Vietnam vets (even though John is among that latter group).
The main part of the plot finally kicks in when John and his buddy partner Zipper (Billy "Green" Bush) stumble onto a deranged elder aptly named Crazy Willie (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who is ranting about having witnessed a suicide. John recognizes this could be his "big break" into the rarified world of the homicide detective, and he is first to canvas the bloody scene of the apparent suicide. The coroner (Royal Dano) wants to just close the case and won't listen to John's concerns about inconsistencies in the crime scene, but once one of those high and mighty homicide detectives shows up, one Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan), John is elated to discover that Harve agrees with him and in recognition of the motorcycle cop's work appoints John his driver, making him almost one of the boys.
Without giving away too much of what ensues, Harve obviously has an agenda which includes harassing the ubiquitous hippies (if that's what we want to call them) who camp in the dusty fields of scrub. John starts to have his suspicions that Harve may be manufacturing evidence against them, and there's a showdown where John has to balance his inherent sense of what's right with his desire to move up the ranks. There are two rather odd codas to this film, one focusing on Zipper and the other focusing on John himself, codas which cast a rather dour outlook on the fate of a righteous and morally intact character.
It's almost unbelievable that this film was derided, as Guercio himself mentions, as a "fascist" screed when it was released. It's obviously a film centering on a man at a crossroads in his life, where he must decide what's more important—the truth or his career. The film does litter the landscape with perhaps too many sidebars for this central thesis, and its "love children" subplot may seem quaint to modern day eyes, but even that aspect has a subversive edge, as is revealed in the devastating finale. The film is notable for a number of reasons. There are quite a few cameos scattered throughout the film, including several members of Chicago (among them the tragic Terry Kath, who himself inadvertently committed suicide from handling a firearm), and, for the true eagle eyed, Nick Nolte in a non-speaking role, one of the earliest in his career. But more importantly, this is an amazingly well controlled debut by a producer and director (not to mention composer as well). Electra Glide in Blue has aged very well indeed, and it reveals a nascent master in filmmaking technique who delivered an audacious and devastating first feature.
Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray, Video Quality
Electra Glide in Blue glides onto Blu-ray with a frequently stunning AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.34:1. The source elements are in generally pristine shape here, and the image is well detailed, with colors nicely saturated and very accurate looking. Now, make no mistake—cinematographer Hall frequently shifts between shallow and deep focus, and this has a typically seventies' film stock appearance, both of which may lead some to accuse this transfer of looking "soft", but a cursory examination of the screenshots accompanying this review should at least help to establish what a nicely filmic and natural presentation this really is. The depth of field on the highway footage is awesome, balanced by exceptional fine detail when Guercio and Hall opt for close-ups. As Guercio mentions on the supplemental featurette, Hall frequently pushed interior scenes, but rather surprisingly shadow detail remains consistent and the image lacks little in detail in these dim sequences. This is easily one of the nicer looking catalog releases we've had from Shout! Factory lately.
Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Electra Glide in Blue features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that ably supports the film's dialogue and the evocative score by Guercio. There are one or two moments of slight distortion, including the first "dressing down" of the troops by the police sergeant early in the film. Otherwise, though, fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide. The stereo separation is most noticeable in some widely splayed foley effects as well as the score.
Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Not to wallow too much in irony, but there's no accounting for some critics' tastes. This film was lambasted upon its release, but I have to say I was more struck by it watching it again on Blu-ray than I initially was when I first saw it in a so-called Art House probably back in the 1980s. This is one of the more tightly controlled directorial debuts that I personally can remember, even if the disturbing final moments seem tonally at odds with the rest of the film. Blake has one of his best roles here, easily making Wintergreen believable and sympathetic, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent (despite what some have averred). Conrad Hall's cinematography is immensely evocative and is resplendent in this new high definition presentation. Highly recommended.
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Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Electra Glide in Blue Blu-ray (Updated) - April 29, 2013
Independent distributors Shout Factory will bring to Blu-ray James William Guercio's Electra Glide in Blue (1973), starring Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush and Mitch Ryan. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the nation on June ...
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