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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Electra Glide In Blue

As a child, I remember that, as a family, we went to a whole lot of motion pictures. We saw all kinds of genres, including westerns, science fiction, dramas, comedies and even epics such as The Ten Commandments, during it's 10th anniversary re-release. I remember seeing my first naked woman in 1967, in some biker movie at the drive-in, just before the ratings system we have today was a known commodity. I remember being pushed down into the backseat of our family station wagon because The Sterile Cuckoo was not a documentary movie about birds or nature. I also remember being scared to death from a movie that was about a bird - a giant vulture, in The Vulture, from 1967. But, mainly, I remember going to a lot of John Wayne movies because my mother was a big fan of The Duke's. Any time he had a new movie come out, we were sure to pack up the car and go see him - whether it was at the drive-in on the outskirts of the town I lived in, or in the little theater in the downtown section by the supermarket. I can remember seeing Big Jake, The Cowboys, and several others in that period beginning in the mid-1960's to the 1970's. And being that the town I grew up in was only about an hour from where the Duke himself lived, I remember getting to preview one of his movies around 1972 before it was released to the general public in 1975 - Brannigan. But, that's another story for another time.
It was the summer of 1973 and I was 12 years old. We were at the downtown indoor theater and John Wayne was putting bad western guys in their place from behind his badge as Cahill - US Marshall. I can remember that before any picture would start, I would watch avidly as the trailers for upcoming movies would be flashed upon the big screen. Most of those pictures I never got to see for some reason or another. Pictures like The Hindenburg, The Godfather or Electra Glide In Blue. They looked so fascinating that I wanted to see them but, I never got to. Especially the last one - that one looked very intriguing. I never got to see any of them that is, until today. Today, I finally got to see Electra Glide In Blue for the very first time in my life. For those who don't know, the picture was about a short guy who was a motorcycle cop and he longed to be a detective so he could trade in his motorbike and not have to waste his life away cruising on the long, desert roads of Arizona. It starred Robert Blake, who was excellent in the role.

The movie was produced by James William Guercio, the same man who managed the rock group Chicago at the time. I've always admired that group. Chicago was featured on the soundtrack, and in addition, four of the members of the group got to appear in the movie as well. A short description of the movie from Wikipedia:
"Blake plays a motorcycle cop named John Wintergreen who patrols the rural Arizona highways with his partner, nicknamed "Zipper" (Billy Green Bush). Wintergreen is a rookie cop who resents being in traffic enforcement and wants to be transferred to homicide investigation. Wintergreen is laid-back but upright about enforcing the law, while Zipper is alternately lazy (preferring to read comic books in the shade) and hardnosed about busting hippies, even going so far as to plant evidence on a young man whose van they were searching."
Blake does eventually get transferred to homicide for a short period of time and solves a murder. The movie itself was filmed in Monument Valley and looks gorgeous, almost like a western. I suppose Blake on his motorcycle was symbolic for the cowboy hero on his horse.


As I sat there, finally watching the motion picture that I could still remember so vividly from only that short promo I saw for it once back in 1973, it seemed like there was something missing. Why exactly did this motion picture stick in my mind so intensely? Why did I remember this film particularly, from only the brief trailer that must have been made for it? Then, it got to the end of the picture and the final scene unfolded - and the image that was clearly burned into my brain some 35 years ago burst from the screen in front of me. Robert Blake had stopped the van mentioned previously and, upon recognizing him, let him off with just a warning that he get a front bumper on his vehicle. As the hippie and his partner drove off, Blake realized he still had the guy's driver's license in his hand, so he remounted his trusty Harley Davidson Electra Glide and went after him to return it. As he neared the back of the Volkswagen Bus, the hippie driver's travelling companion stuck a double-barrelled shotgun out of the back window and shot Blake squarely in the chest, probably killing him instantly. The whole final scene of the movie was Blake falling off his bike and the momentum of his chase speed carrying it further down the road on it's own. This was the scene I remembered from all those years ago. Closure at last! The end of the movie played out, some 7 or 8 minutes of it, with a camera shot showing Blake dying in the middle of the road, while the vehicle carrying the camera continued on down that road looking back at the Arizona landscape and the highway and the image of Blake's body getting smaller and smaller until you couldn't see it any longer. The last thing you do see is what appears to be a vulture and it flies back toward where the body is lying and the producers of the movie freeze frame the bird when it gets just above one of the rock mountain formations seemingly growing up out of the back end of the highway. Then the credits roll and it's all over. What a powerful movie, and I'm glad to have been able to finally see it after all these years! I can highly recommend it. If you do choose to see it, buy your copy from anywhere but Wal-Mart.