If there's one thing I enjoy more than discovering a solid little 1970s flick, it's discovering a solid little 1970s flick that features Gene Hackman, Harry Dean Stanton, and a whole lot of marijuana. It doesn't actually happen all that often, which is why the debut feature from Bill L. Norton, 1972's Cisco Pike, proved to be such an unexpected treat.
Kris Kristofferson (also in his debut) stars as Cisco Pike, a former teen idol who has fallen on hard times. Forced to peddle drugs as a way to make some coin, Cisco has a loyal-yet-disapproving girlfriend (as played by Karen Black), a long-lost addict pal (Stanton), and an unwelcome visitor in the form of police sergeant Leo Holland (Hackman).
Essentially blackmailed by Holland into selling pounds of reefer, Cisco hops from sale to sale, forever dodging the (non-crooked) cops and dealing with all sorts of untrustworthy pothead bastards. Given a strict deadline under which to unload all the weed, and more than aware that his girlfriend will have his head if she discovers the truth, Cisco must use all of his cannabis-laden wits to get the cop his money while keeping his ass out of jail. And we're not talking about a few dime-bags here. The dirty cop wants Cisco to unload about 100 kilos of fancy ganja in less than 53 hours.
In case you're still wondering, Cisco Pike is precisely one of those low-budget, low-profile, low-key character study pieces that were so popular in the early and mid-70s. Not beholden to any sort of massive plot threads or shocking revelations, Mr. Norton focuses his attention on the disparate characters that populate this landscape.
The overriding theme of Cisco Pike seems to be this: the hippies lost, and now it seems that all involved parties have been chewed up and spit out by the machine known as modern society. Cisco would love to make a comeback as a performer, but he's seen by his peers as a has-been pot dealer, so there's little luck to be found there. Sergeant Holland is a disillusioned veteran cop who simply wants to retire in style, but he's being screwed over by the very system he's spent years defending. Cisco Pike is not exactly a happy flick, but it is quite engaging, and it's certainly never boring ... especially in the late moments when Harry Dean Stanton shows up as a former bandmate of Cisco's who is now a shameless junkie.
Low-key and quiet, Cisco Pike is more or less a "forgotten" piece of 70's cinema, which is precisely why I jumped into the thing with both feet. It's a somber, efficient, and enjoyably moody tale of hope, desperation, and final chances. Plus it's got a lot of people in it who smoke weed, and that's always good for a few laughs.
Video: The movie is presented in a pretty solid anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) format.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, with optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, and Thai.
At first I thought "Cool, here's another movie to knock off my Gene Hackman* checklist," but Cisco Pike impressed me by telling a solid story and doing it with no muss and no fuss. If you're a fan of the 70s Cinema vibe, you should absolutely consider this one worthy of a weekend rental sometime soon.
(* The guy's one of my very favorite actors, and he delivers yet another effortlessly memorable performance here.)