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Review: Electra Glide in Blue

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

Film directors have come from many backgrounds, in the past more so than today; but with Electra Glide in Blue a new source has been tapped. James William Guercio is a prominent record producer. The influence of his background in the recording industry becomes immediately apparent when, in the first several minutes of the film, we witness a “suicide” while a weepy piano tune plays on a hand-cranked phonograph. Guercio has a feeling for music and film, and he blends both into an expressive statement. Certainly one of the most poetic of these expressions is a chase scene which begins slowly, the characters in floating telephoto shots seen through waves of heat rising from the pavement and the sands of the Arizona desert; with the addition of music to the soundtrack it becomes a ballet that moves inexorably toward its climax.

In a way, the whole film is a chase: Both main characters have a dream which they pursue and which, to some degree, dictates the course each will take. Both are motorcycle cops in a small Arizona town. Big John Wintergreen’s (Robert Blake) dream is of a transfer to Homicide, to become a detective, “to get paid for thinking.” Zipper’s (Billy “Green” Bush) is of owning “a real motorscooter,” an “Electra Glide in blue.” Zipper’s dream comes true and Big John’s very nearly does, but they both find that your fondest dream may, at the moment of realization, turn into a nightmare. John has to “do whatever’s right,” adhere to “P.P.P.” (proper police procedure), and kill Zipper, his partner and friend. With the final shot of Zipper’s death the film itself takes on a dreamlike quality that does not end until the film does.

In this, as in the film as a whole, Conrad Hall’s photography is striking: lighted consistently in a low-key way that gives it a slightly otherworldly look. Monument Valley contributes substantially to this look and in its vastness adds a feeling of loneliness. This is most appropriate since loneliness is another theme of the movie: “Did you know loneliness’d kill you deader than a .357 Magnum?” Big John asks us, and at the end we see it kill him. With the death of his friend and the loss of his dream he dies emotionally; his clinical death is only a technicality. Following that death is eight minutes of music and the simplest of film techniques that in their blending repeat a slower, more measured rhythm that flows throughout the picture. Though individual scenes may have a faster, more conspicuous pacing, and though they occasionally lack smooth or meaningful transitions, this sub-rhythm serves to cement the film together. Unfortunately the majority of the audience tends to leave before the end of this eight minutes, and this (combined with the desire of most managers to leave the theater as early as possible) may mean that all or part of the conclusion may be removed after the film leaves its downtown run. Those who do not see this eight minutes have not seen James William Guercio’s signature.

Direction: James William Guercio. Screenplay: Robert Boris, after a story by Boris and Rupert Hitzig. Cinematography: Conrad Hall. Music: Guercio. Production: Guercio.
The Players: Robert Blake, Billy “Green” Bush, Mitchell Ryan, Elisha Cook, Jeannine Riley, Royal Dano.

Copyright © 1973 L.R. Pierre