Shout! Factory // 1973 // 83 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 28th, 2013
He's a good cop...on a big bike...on a bad road.
John Wintergreen (Robert Blake, Lost Highway) is a motorcycle cop working the traffic beat in a small Arizona town. Though he is constantly razzed by the rest of the squad for his short stature, he has big plans. He wants to be a detective, and will stop at nothing to realize his dream. When he and his partner Zipper (Billy "Green" Bush, Five Easy Pieces) discover a dead body in a rundown shack, Wintergreen tries to convince his superiors to let him treat the case as a homicide. While the facts don't fall the way our hero wants, he is still rewarded with a promotion of sorts. Working side by side with seasoned lawman Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan, Dark Shadows), there is a lot of tension-and that makes sense, when you consider Wintergreen is bedding the man's gal pal (Jeannine Reilly, The Big Mouth). Eventually, our lead is demoted, tragedy strikes, and the counterculture movement that turned his service in Vietnam into a sin becomes the target for his long simmering rage.
Along with Joe, and other attempts to merge the hippies with their most hated adversaries (read: the Establishment), Electra Glide in Blue was once considered almost fascist. This could be because it champion law enforcement while simultaneously condemning it. It could also be that it painted the peace generation (some years removed from the Summer of Love) as a spoiled stain on society. Whatever the case, songwriter and producer (Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears) turned filmmaker James William Guercio offers his take on the lone man against corruption sub-genre in a way that's more reminiscent of John Ford than John Lennon. Monument Valley is an awesome backdrop and this novice director makes the most of it. He even includes a few members of the famed "25 or 6 to 4" band in cameos. But it's the weird balancing act between morality and meaning that gives Electra Glide in Blue it's edge. Cops -- or pigs, as they were often called back then -- were almost always viewed in pure black and white contrasts. This was one of the first films to broaden and confuse said personality scope.
As a result, Electra Glide in Blue has become a certified cult classic. Fans worship its weirdness, and it's not hard to see why. Blake, as good as he is, is constantly shown as diminutive and minor compared to the rest of the company. Remember that moment in The Silence of the Lambs where a sweatshirted Jodie Foster steps into an FBI elevator full of men? That's this movie's entire stylistic strategy. The wide open vistas (and with them, possibilities) of the desert Southwest also represent a wanderlust level of free association. As Blake rides along on his slick chromed creature, he takes on any iconography a viewer wants: hero; villain; champion; chump. By the end, when we get the chance to see just how far the corruption really goes, the events that unfold feel sickeningly familiar. In fact, it's safe to say that outside the period pieces and obviously dated dialogue, Electra Glide in Blue still fits today. It's like the blueprint for the post-modern crime drama bolted onto a radical's revisionist ideas.
Long available in the digital format, this is the first time Electra Glide in Blue has seen a Blu-ray release stateside, and the image is excellent. Yes, there are a few issues with the interior scenes, but many of them have to do with how Guercio chose to shoot them. The colors are solid, the contrasts obvious without being blunt, and the level of detail is delightful considering this is a 40 year old film. Indeed, the 1080p/2.35:1 transfer is terrific. Guercio was also in charge of the oddball scoring for the movie and the lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is telling. It pushes the sonics to the fore while maintaining an easily understandable level of dialogue. Don't expect any immersion or spatial tricks and you'll be fine. As for added content, we are treated to the same bonus features that were found on the original DVD release. There is a sparse audio commentary from Guercio (who doesn't remember much, sadly), a spoiler-heavy intro (watch after you've viewed the film), and a trailer. That's it.
As the 1960s slid into the somber malaise of the '70s, reflection and reconsideration became part of the new artist's palette. Electra Glide in Blue benefited from such an ambiguous aesthetic. It may not have worked four decades ago (the film was a mild hit, mostly on the drive-in circuit), but today it seems like a window into a lost world. A wholly recognizable and understandable world, but a lost one all the same.
Not guilty. A groovy little chestnut.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated PG