By Richard Winters
My Rating: 9 out of 10
4-Word Review: Motorcycle cop turns detective.
John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is a motorcycle cop tired of giving out traffic tickets and interested in a more intellectual job like working in the homicide division as a detective. By chance he comes along an isolated desert hut with a dead body in it that appears to have been a suicide, but he is not convinced even though everyone else is. During the coroner’s investigation it is found to indeed have been a murder, which impresses senior detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan) so much that he asks John to become his assistant. At first he is excited about his new opportunity, but finds the position has hidden drawbacks of its own and eventually he becomes just as frustrated with it.
The film shows police work in an offbeat and revealing light. How many cop movies have you seen showing policemen handing out traffic tickets? May sound boring and monotonous, but actually it is just the opposite. The arguments that the drivers give to try and get out of the fine are amusing and very on-target. This film goes well beyond the typical Hollywood prototype of a policeman and instead we get to see real people with a wide variety of personalities that make up the force. There is also a cool motorcycle chase that features wipe-outs done in slow motion.
Director James William Guercio may be better known for his musical contributions, but his directing is spot-on from the first frame until the last. The opening scene has a wonderfully visual style and the photography of the desert landscape is expansive and vivid looking almost like it could have been filmed yesterday. The fact that this is his only film output is a real shame as he has a keen eye for directing that is far better than some veteran directors and it is a waste that he hasn’t done more.
Blake fits into his role solidly and it almost seems like the part was written specifically for him. The visual digs at his short height are cute and I liked seeing the character evolve and the way he becomes disillusioned with Harve, a man he initially admires and eventually tells-off in biting style is well done.
The dialogue has a nice conversational quality to it and John’s exchanges with both and Harve and his police partner Zipper (Billy Green Bush) are excellent. Jeannie Riley who has fallen off the cinematic radar and should not be confused with the singer who sang ‘Harper Valley P.T.A.’ gives quite a good performance as Jolene an alcoholic woman with big Hollywood dreams only to be stuck in a sad little town. The scene where Harve brings John to a bar so can ‘meet his girlfriend’ only to find that John has been sleeping with her too is priceless.
The anger and detachment between the police and the hippies of the day are well captured. The film has a great lyrical quality to it where every shot and scene seems to be a story in itself. The foreshadowing is excellent and the ending scene is not only a bit of a shocker, but also features one of the most amazing tracking shots you will ever see put onto film. A definite classic waiting to be rediscovered.
My Rating: 9 out of 10
Released: August 19, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes
Director: James William Guerco
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray