“He’s a good cop . . . on a big bike . . . on a bad road!”
Robert Blake (later to star in TV cop series Baretta – and his own real-life legal drama) is John Wintergreen – a diminutive Vietnam vet by-the-book motorcycle cop whose pint-sized stature makes him a laughing stock (he justifies his tough-guy act by claiming to be the exact same height as Alan Ladd).
Patrolling the empty dusty highways of Arizona on his gleaming bike, however, he dreams of making it as a big plainclothes detective and spies a chance when he gets involved on the edge of a murder case after an old recluse is killed.
Identifying a crime scene gets Wintergreen a gig as the temporary sidekick of Detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan), a grandstanding investigator with a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and an ever-present cigar.
Increasingly hazy, funny, violent and bleak, Electra Glide In Blue moves from black comedy toward something like a smaller, fuzzier, flakier forerunner to movies like Chinatown (1974).
Like those movies, solving the central crime is never really the point, as the film becomes a muggy meditation on the state of America in the Nixon era, with cinematographer Conrad Hall shooting the dwarfing, resonant landscapes of Monument Valley in a way that would have pleased John Ford.
Arizona police refused to cooperate with the production because of certain scenes, especially an assembly of an entire police motorcycle force. The sequence ultimately had to be shot out in the desert because the film makers were turned out of every town they tried it in.
Director James William Guercio was producer, manager and sometimes songwriter for MOR legends Chicago, who are glimpsed in concert shots in the movie.
Electra Glide In Blue was never a hit. In 1973, the hippy audience it was aimed at just couldn’t get their heads around a film that asked them to root for a damned cop. But Blake’s little Wintergreen is a real hero, just waiting to be rediscovered.
Billy Green Bush
Elisha Cook Jr
James William Guercio