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
Posted in 70's Movies, Moody/Stylish, Movies Based on Actual Events, Movies with a rural setting, Mystery, Police Drama
Tagged Entertainment, James William Guercio, Jeannine Riley, Movies, Review, Robert Blake
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kooky couple goes truckin’
Maddie (Dyan Cannon) escapes from a mental hospital after she finds out that her husband (Quinn K. Redeker) had her committed there simply so he could avoid an expensive divorce. On the run she hitches a ride with truck driver Charles Callahan (Robert Blake) who reluctantly takes her in despite having troubles of his own including running from a man named Jules (William Lucking) who is after him for late payments on his truck. Together the two ride all the way from New York to California dealing with calamity and even some romance along the way.
Cannon has not had a lot of success in films where she has been the star, but she scores here and pretty much saves it and deserved top billing over Blake. Her energetic upbeat personality that has just a tinge of the fun-loving despite the circumstances helps keep things moving and entertaining. I loved the fact that she had herself trained on how to drive a big rig, so she could go through exactly what her character did when she first gets behind the wheel. The part where she climbs into some stalls housing a bunch of cows including a wild steer deserves mention for her tenacity, which is something some other plastic Hollywood stars wouldn’t even consider.
Blake on the other hand doesn’t fare as well and his attempts at trying to leave Maddie behind and stranding her in the middle of nowhere does not make his character very likable. He is also a poor choice for a romantic lead and the scenes in the snow where they finally do kiss seem forced and unnatural.
The casting of 60-year-old Maxine Stuart as a tough talking bounty hunter out to nab Maddie is interesting simply for its novelty. Lucking literally puts his body on the line getting chased by a steer that comes very close to nailing him. Michael Lerner is entertaining as the psychiatrist who gets knocked out by a bust of Sigmund Freud and then put into a strait-jacket and left on the side of the road.
The film though is disjointed and the first hour runs flat and fails to gain any momentum. The broad humor is not very funny and the couple’s constant bickering is more tiring than engaging. There is also the problem that the story is all about this great big cross-country trip that they take and yet it was entirely filmed within the state of California. Obviously this was for budgetary reasons, but when the film’s theme centers on a big trip then they should’ve taken the extra step and done everything on-location where the scenery could have helped during the slow parts of which the film has many.
The second hour manages to be a bit of an improvement. The part where Maddie takes her big truck and drives it through her husband’s posh garden party is amusing especially when she proceeds to crash the rig right through the wall of their big house and then careen’s the thing straight through their living room, which is done in slow-motion. This scene as well as the shocked reactions of the snotty party guests is enough to save what is otherwise a misfire.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: October 3, 1980
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Joseph Sargent
Posted in 80's Movies, Farce, Obscure Movies, Road Movies, Romance
Tagged Dyan Cannon, Entertainment, Maxine Stuart, Michael Lerner, Movies, Review, Robert Blake, William Lucking