Call it what you want – a lucky coincidence or some sort of sinister conspiracy – the acquittal of Robert Blake on charges of murdering his wife, days before the film Electra Glide in Blue comes out on DVD, is pretty sweet timing. Seriously, you could come up with a better marketing campaign if you tried. But whatever sort of cosmic alignment that was responsible for things working out the way they did is, ultimately, irrelevant. All that matters is that one of lost classics of the 1970s is finally available on DVD.
Coming seven years after In Cold Blood, the crowning achievement in Blake's career, and shortly before his lead role in the television series Beretta, Electra Glide in Blue remains one of the actor's finest moments. Blake stars as Big John Wintergreen, an Arizona state motorcycle cop. A by-the-numbers cop, Wintergreen is tough but fair, valuing his own integrity, honesty and sense of honor above all else. When a fellow cop plants dope on an unsuspecting hippie, Wintergreen wants no part of it. Wintergreen spends his days patrolling the vast stretches of highway on his Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle, all the while dreaming of moving up the ranks to homicide detective. When Wintergreen stumbles across what appears to be a suicide, he's the only one at the crime scene who refuses to believe it was anything other than foul play. When his hunch is proven correct, Wintergreen is promoted to plain clothes. But his tenure is short lived when the detective training the ambitious Wintergreen discovers that his protegee has been having an affair with his girlfriend.
Written by Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig, and directed by James William Guercio, Electra Glide in Blue is one of those unique films that could only be made in the 1970s. Owing much of its grand, picturesque imagery to the films of John Ford, Guercio's film is, first and foremost, a modern western. The exterior cinematography by Conrad Hall is on par with any of the work found in Ford's best films, and captures the vast emptiness of the Arizona desert in such a way that creates a feeling of lonely insignificance. Halls cinematography lends itself well to the true tenor of Electra Glide in Blue, which is an existential rumination on loneliness and one man's all consuming desire to live life by his own moral code. In some ways, it exists on the opposite end of spectrum from Easy Rider. During one scene, Wintergreen is using a poster from Easy Rider for target practice, a symbolic gesture that foreshadows events that will come later in the film.
Regardless of what you might think of Blake as a person, as an actor there's no denying his talent in this film. Likewise, this is a film that deserves to be seen.
Electra Glide in Blue is presented 2.35.1 widescreen. For fans of the film who have been stuck watching the pan-and-scan VHS for years, this new version is a welcome treat, as it really showcase the amazing camera work of Conrad Hall. The problem with the presentation is that some of the scenes are too dark. I can't tell if this is how the film was originally lit (although I suspect it is), or if this is just a bad transfer job.
Electra Glide in Blue is presented in Dolby Digital. The sound mix is uneven, and at times you may find you have to crank the volume.
There is a brief introduction by director James William Guercio, where he talks about how the film came to be, and the influence John Ford had on him. The intro is just enough to get you exciting about the audio commentary from Guercio. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but Guercio's commentary is perhaps the most boring I've ever tried to listen to. Maybe it gets more interesting after the first twenty minutes – which is when I gave up – but from what I heard, there was no reason to keep listening. There is also the original theatrical trailer.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]