Directed/Music by James William Guercio
Produced by James William Guercio/Rupert Hitzig
Screenplay by Robert Boris
Story by Robert Boris/Rupert Hitzig
Cinematography by Conrad Hall
Edited by Jim Benson/Gerald R. Greenberg/John F. Link
You ever see a movie that you watched more than once simply because you can’t figure out if you like it or not? That’s how I feel about ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE. I’ve seen it maybe four or five times over the years. Most recently on the MGM HD Movie Channel after about five years and I’m still as conflicted now as I was the previous times I’ve seen it. And I honestly don’t know why. I like the performances and the story. The cinematography by Conrad Hall is gorgeous. Most of the movie was filmed in Monument Valley where John Ford filmed most of his classic westerns. Director James William Guercio (who was also producer of the band Chicago) calls the movie a modern Western, which is fine by me ‘cause I like Westerns.
It’s one of those movies where a murder kick starts the plot but nobody actually seems very concerned about solving the murder. In the end, Robert Blake’s character figures out who the killer is not through any really brilliant or clever detective work on his part. There just simply aren’t any other suspects. And I suppose my dissatisfaction with the movie is with that ending. 1970s movies were big on nihilistic, downbeat endings that I suppose were meant to symbolize the chaotic futility of life and the meaninglessness of human existence. I dunno. I don’t get that deep. All I know is that I didn’t feel that the Robert Blake character deserved his fate. And maybe that is the point of the movie: that we don’t always get the fate we deserve or want.
Arizona motorcycle police officer John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is anxious to get off his motorcycle and get transferred to Homicide. As he tells his more easy going partner Zipper (Billy “Green” Bush) being a detective means he gets to wear a suit and having a detective’s badge means that he works a job where he gets to think. Zipper is more than happy to goof off sitting in the shade, reading comic books and harassing the occasional hippie just minding his business driving his psychedelic VW minibus.
Wintergreen’s big chance comes along when an old desert rat named Willie (the great Elisha Cook, Jr.) reports a suicide. Even though the coroner (Royal Dano) corroborates this, Wintergreen isn’t so sure. The dead man committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun and Wintergreen maintains that a true suicide would have blown his head off cleanly instead of lingering for hours in pain bleeding to death. Wintergreen is backed up by local legend Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan). Poole is the kind of Homicide detective Wintergreen fantasizes about being. Poole is a larger then life presence. Cool and confident, he always wears suits that look brand new, a ten gallon cowboy hat and smokes expensive cigars while seeming to effortlessly solve murders.
He is overjoyed when Poole, impressed with Wintergreen’s thinking, has Wintergreen transferred to Homicide making him his partner on the case. Now, the case itself really isn’t that hard to work. The complications come from outside the case. Wintergreen and Poole discover that they’re sleeping with the same woman (Jeannine Riley) and Wintergreen has an unshakeable moral center. Earlier in the movie we’ve seen him give a speeding ticket to a Los Angeles detective who is outraged that Wintergreen won’t show him “professional courtesy.” This moral center works against him when dealing with the hippies he and Poole encounter during their investigation as Wintergreen sees no reason why they shouldn’t be treated just like everybody else while Poole treats them like shit because he has a badge and a gun and they don’t.
Add to that the $5,000 the murder victim had in his shack that disappears and the murder case very quickly gets tangled up in issues that have nothing to do with the case at all. And John Wintergreen quickly learns that getting what you think you want most sometimes doesn’t make you happy at all.
You watch Robert Blake in this and “In Cold Blood” and you realize that he actually is a very gifted actor. He also enjoyed one of the longest careers in Hollywood. He was one of the “Little Rascals” and pretty much worked steadily in film and TV until the late 1990’s, most notably in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE is more of a character study than a straight-up murder mystery and Wintergreen is an interesting guy. Despite his height (“Did you know that me and Alan Ladd are the same height? Right down to the quarter inch.”) he’s quite the ladies man. There’s a terrific scene where Jeannine Riley as the deliciously slutty Jolene enrages Poole with her drunken bragging about Wintergreen’s sexual stamina.
Mitchell Ryan turns in a terrifically solid performance as Poole who starts off being worshipped by Wintergreen and ends up being despised by him as the longer Wintergreen works with him the more he sees the man behind the curtain and he doesn’t like that man at all. Billy “Green” Bush is quirky and eccentric as the laid back Zipper who displays an unexpected mean streak when dealing with members of the counter culture.
If you’ve never seen ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, it’s well worth your time. It’s an episodic, meandering movie but well made with quirky, watchable performances. Like I said earlier, don’t into it looking for your standard murder mystery. It’s more concerned with examining a police officer whose moral code separates him not only from the counter culture but also from his fellow police officers. It’s a meditative movie that works its money maker off to be more than just a standard cop thriller and it’s an excellent showcase of Robert Blake’s talent as an actor. Enjoy.