Directed and produced by musician James William Guercio based on a story by Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig, 1973's Electra Glide In Blue is an interesting movie, almost a love letter to the films of John Ford dressed up as a cop film, although by cop film standards this movie is anything but typical.
The movie revolves around a motorcycle patrolman named John Wintergreen (Robert Blake), a short but tough cop who works the streets of his Arizona town busting people for speeding and what not. John served his country in Vietnam and is fast approaching his fortieth birthday. He's and honest man and good at his job but he dreams of bigger things: he wants to be a homicide detective. As that opportunity doesn't seem to be about to fall into his lap any time soon, when he and his partner, Zipper (Billy Green Bush), find an elderly man dead in his shack seemingly at his own hand he fights to keep the case and prove that it was murder.
Though the coroner claims the man is dead of suicide, John's actions don't go unrewarded and soon he's working alongside detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan) who brings him on as a driver and protÃ©gÃ© of sorts. John soon finds that things are not what he expected they would be, and we'll leave it at that.
Better known for his work with Chicago (the band â€" they have cameo's in the movie and Peter Cetera actually plays a hippy-esque suspect in the murder) in the seventies than as a filmmaker, Guercio's only directorial credit is an interesting one. It understandably gets a lot of comparisons to Easy Rider, as both movies deal with motorcycles and feature a character trying to find himself, but at the same time it's very much the opposite of Hopper's film in just as many ways. Wintergreen and Zipper have no time for free love or hippy ideals, they're out to enforce the law, just as they've been trained to do. They'll do what they need to do in order to get those they deem unfit off of the streets, with Zipper even going so far as to plant some weed on a young man just to bust him because he doesn't like him. Behind closed doors, however, Zipper is prone to taking evidence of the herbal kind home with him.
Shot on location in Monument Valley along the Arizona/Utah border, it's easy to see the influence of John Ford here right from the opening shot. As we see a lone vehicle slowly move along the only road visible, a background made up of beautiful desert mountain scenery, we can't help but think of the westerns Ford made. The similarities don't end there, however, as our two cops are very much cowboys, albeit ones riding motorcycles in place of horses. They do most of their work alone and spend long hours of each day driving around the desert and there are some interesting (and rather obvious) tributes made to The Searchers that western fans ought to appreciate. These outdoor shots contrast intentionally and in interesting ways with those that take place indoors. The indoor scenes are much darker and considerably more bizarre, the movie really springing to life when the camera starts to roam. Those outdoor scenes are beautiful, at times almost hypnotic, and with the movie told in such an unusual way, unfolding in flashbacks and odd edits there's very much an arthouse sensibility to all of this.
Performances are good here. Billy Green Bush is in fine form here as Wintergreen's partner, a man more prone to violence than he and one who bends the law when it suits him. Mitchell Ryan is also good, playing the flashy homicide detective with the slick suit and the cowboy hat, the kind that Wintergreen wants to be, until he finds out the reality of who he and his fellow detectives really are. Blake steals the show, however. Whether he's making time with Harve's â€˜girlfriend' (a nice supporting turn from Jeannine Riley) or interrogating a suspect he carries himself well even if his character is frequently the butt of incessant short jokes. Blake career may have gone in some decidedly bizarre directions since this movie was made but it's easy to watch him here and see why he'd later be cast in Baretta. His character is tough, empowered even, but unlike most of those around him he seems to care about doing the right thing. The film isn't flawless, it has pacing issues here and there and it's hard not to notice a few rather jarring shifts in tone, but it stands as an underappreciated gem of seventies cinema and it has aged very well indeed.
Shout! Factory presents Electra Glide In Blue on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the movie's original aspect ratio of 2.35.1. Generally speaking, this is a good image. A lot of the movie has the characters' faces hidden in shadow, so there are some scenes that feature some tricky lighting that the encoding has to contend with but for the most part shadow detail is fine. There doesn't appear to be any issues with noise reduction and the film's grain structure looks completely natural. Skin tones look lifelike, no waxiness and never too pink, and the film's color scheme doesn't appear to have been monkeyed with at all, it retains that sort of gritty, weird, seventies aesthetic that's so important to the movie's tone. Close up shots show good detail, not revelatory in the way that a brand spankin' new Hollywood production might, but definitely better than what we saw on DVD. Creases in leather jackets or some slight fraying around a button on a dress shirt are obvious now where they aren't in the past, and black levels are good throughout.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD Stereo track, there are no alternate language options provided. The film's odd score sounds good, as do the soundtrack selection, they benefit the most from the left to right channel separation, much more so than the dialogue. Some of the effects also come through rather well here. Balanced is good and there's decent depth to the mix. Actors are plenty easy to hear and understand and there are no issues with hiss or distortion to note.
Carried over from MGM's DVD release from a few years back is an audio commentary by Director James William Guercio. Those who have heard this track before know that it's not particularly engrossing and it's plagued by long gaps of silence. When he does talk, he's frequently apologizing for not having a whole lot to say about the movie. Guercio also shows up for a nine minute introduction video, also carried over from the MGM DVD, where he talks about the influence of John Ford and makes some other notes about the production. This is more interesting than the commentary but be advised if you haven't seen the movie before it's got some spoilers in it. Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the movie, menus and chapter selection. The disc was originally announced as having a commentary and interview with Robert Blake, but that didn't wind up happening.
Electra Glide In Blue is one of most unconventional cop films of the seventies. It defies expectations and goes in directions that you do not see coming. It's tense, intelligent, well made and entertaining and Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release is a welcome one. It doesn't add anything new to the extras, unfortunately, but it does offer an appreciable upgrade in the audio and video departments and comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.