Drive, He Said (1971) Poster

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a film that finds strengths and weaknesses in it's share of conventionality and unconventionality
MisterWhiplash4 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
As Jack Nicholson's directorial debut, Drive, He Said displays at the least that he is a gifted director of actors. Even when the story might seem to lose its way to the audience (and to a modern audience - if they can find it, which pops up now and again on eBay - it might seem more free formed than they think), the film contains vivid, interesting characterizations. The film tells of two college kids: the protagonist is Hector (William Tepper, in what borders on a break-out performance), a star of the Leopards, the college basketball team he plays on. While he has to deal with a coach (Bruce Dern) who puts on the pressure to stay focused, and a on and off girlfriend (Karen Black) with her own emotional problems, there's Gabriel (Michael Margotta), the other kid. Gabriel, it seems, is just a little more than freaked out by the possibility to be drafted, and so in his own radical mind-state he does what he can to keep out. But as Hector tries to find the balance between his oncoming fame and those he loves, Gabriel is going over the threshold of sanity.

Nicholson, on the technical side of things, displays a fascinating editing style that keeps things on edge during the basketball scenes, and implements darkness in many other scenes with a documentary-feel throughout. And from Tepper, Black, and even Robert Towne (writer of Chinatown, Last Detail, and Mission: Impossible among others, who rarely acts) he garners some credible acting work. Though in Tepper there is a tendency to downplay his emotions. In some scenes, for example, when he could act brilliantly sarcastic, he doesn't play it for what it's worth. From Margotta, on the other hand, there is a vibrant, twisted force in his performance, and as he descends it's frightening, but perhaps understandable from the times (and what a climax). Dern steals most of his scenes, by the way, in a performance that should have garnered him an Oscar nomination. Every line of his dialog is appropriate, true, and it's never hammed up like in recent coach movie performances.

But what drags down the film is that elements involving the characters aren't explained to the degree one might wish more. The film was based on a novel by Jeremy Larner, who co-wrote the script with Nicholson, and I was expecting that the film to be longer than it was. It's a slim volume with a lot of information, about the times, about the sport, about the underlying feelings that were with those of the younger generation. Nicholson presents us with these characters and situations, and rarely are they shown to what's motivating them (the anti-war protesters not included, their part's understandable enough). Gabriel is perturbed by what's going on in Vietnam, but what else is there? Hector, too, is a guy who has apprehensions about being drafted for the NBA, and he still loves to play, but what's holding him back? This whole atmosphere is intriguing, how the late 60's college/basketball experience was, but that intriguing quality, which does lead to some unconventionality, is kept at a point where it can't go too further. Overall, the effect of the film as a whole is bittersweet, and somewhat memorable for its good points, and not for it's low ones. And, for sure, you can tell who's behind the lens every step of the way. B+
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An almost perfect depiction of the American college experience in the late 60s-early 70s, Nicholson's directorial debut has been unfairly neglected-- and deserves a new audience!
titov1 December 2001
This may be the only film that actually comes close to capturing on film the essentially uncapturable world of the American college experience of the late 60s-early 70s. Go ahead, name another movie that even approaches this one: "Getting Straight"? "RPM"? These are caricatures. "Return of the Secaucus Seven" has its moments, but that's a retrospective film about (self-obsessed) individuals more than a film about a time and a place depicted *in* that time and place. "Drive, He Said" portrays-- with subtlety and nuance where it should, and a swift kick in the shorts where that's the only appropriate way-- the anti-draft movement, the ambiguity of big-time college sports (especially when there's a war on), the sexual revolution of the period, and the general unreality of the day. Believe me, it was like that.

The whole cast deserves commendation (as does the director, of course) but particular praise should be reserved for Bruce Dern, as the basketball coach, and Karen Black, the hero's very unusual-- except for that time-- love interest. William Tepper, as the lead, also rates a real round of applause both for his perfect capturing of the student-athlete of the period and for actually playing real college basketball in the film (remember Anthony Perkins in "Tall Story"? Yikes!).

All in all, a classic of a kind-- and the last film someone currently in 6th grade should be writing comments on ("boring", "repellent"-- um, right, sonny, please go back to your Arnold movies). Why isn't this film available from imdb?
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Interesting, but I can't say I liked it much at all
zetes22 May 2011
One of only three films Jack Nicholson directed. This film was kind of a dud at the time, which probably explains why Nicholson's secondary career never flowered. I have to say, he did have some talent as a director. Unfortunately, Drive, He Said isn't that good of a film. Well directed, but still a bit of a bore. William Tepper plays a college basketball star (in Ohio, as the whole film is meant to make the audience think of Kent State). His roommate, Michael Margotta, is a hippie activist who is about to be drafted. Karen Black, who made a big splash opposite Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, plays a faculty wife with whom Tepper is having an affair. The big problem with the film is that Tepper is pretty boring and Margotta is extremely annoying. There are some good scenes, but it just doesn't come together. This one is more a candidate for rewatch than A Safe Place (which is on the same Criterion disc), though. I felt like there was something I wasn't getting. I may not have entirely liked it, but it was intriguing.
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The sixties as they were . . .
davidfried8424 March 2012
I attended college in the late Sixties, and I wanted to chime in with Titov and others who says that this is one of only a handful of movies that captures the time as lived experience rather than journalistic cliché. I can think of only three or four others: "Baby, It's You"; "Dog Fight"; and to some extent Milos Forman's first American film, "Taking Off." Not one of these films is available on Netflix. I saw each when it came out. "Taking Off" was revived pretty often for three or four years, so there must have been others who liked it as much as I did. The others I haven't seen since they were first in theaters, so I can'be sure of my present reaction. But for 40 years I've remembered the last line of "Drive, He Said," which says something.
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Decent counterculture yarn
NORDIC-21 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Before he became a journalist, Eugene McCarthy's speechwriter, and then an Oscar-winning screenwriter (The Candidate), Jeremy Larner was a successful novelist. His first effort, Drive, He Said (Delacorte Press, 1964) won the $10,000 Delta Prize for best first novel, beating out over a thousand other manuscripts. The protagonist of Drive, He Said is Hector Bloom, "a half-hick, half-Jew, left-handed neurotic basketball player from the green hills of California" who attends a small, upstate New York university on the Hudson River. The book's other protagonist is Bloom's roommate, Gabriel Reuben, a New York City Jew from an affluent family who nonetheless harbors revolutionary political sentiments. Bloom plays great basketball, sleeps with a professor's wife, and confusedly ponders his future with pro recruiters while Reuben plots seditious mayhem—and eventually acts out by burning down the campus! Written before America's full engagement in Vietnam, Drive, He Said is more centrally concerned with early 1960s cultural vertigo, the vagaries of American Dream ideology, and arms race anxieties. Scripted just after the Sixties by first-time director Jack Nicholson in collaboration with author Jeremy Larner (and un-credited help from Robert Towne and Terrence Malick), Drive, He Said zeroes in on the radicalization of an All-American college jock during the era of Vietnam War protests—which were at their height when the movie was being filmed on the campus of the University of Oregon (Eugene, OR). The somewhat chaotic structure of Drive He Said, while off-putting to some critics, nicely enacts the turmoil of the time. Performances are, however, a mixed bag. The redoubtable Bruce Dern is excellent as Hector's mean-spirited coach. Karen Black is equally convincing as Olive, Hector's troubled mistress. Michael Margotta, who plays Hector's roommate, the increasingly psychotic campus radical is also good. Unfortunately William Tepper, an unknown cast as Hector lacks the charisma to carry off the lead role. Filmmaker Henry Jaglom and screenwriter Robert Towne both play professors and David Ogden Stiers and Cindy Williams appear in minor roles. Screened at the 6th Annual CineVegas Film Festival (2004) where Jack Nicholson was honored with the Festival's Marquee Award, Drive, He Said has not been released on VHS or DVD.
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A real icon for the late 60's college experience
lbeach10425 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Good luck finding this film to even watch - it's not yet released on tape or DVD. I saw on release in the early '70's, was lucky enough to catch it via American Cinematheque's preservation efforts, and it still has some tangible moments that stayed with me for thirty years.

No reason to repeat rwint's accurate comments here. As a come-out Director soon after the soaring success of Five Easy Pieces, Jack N has been said to have managed the low budget effort as best as possible, and it certainly shows in the wandering and meandering that could have used some re-cutting. But it's also a memorable icon for it's time: the all very intense clashes of late 60's college sports, student movements, sexual revolution, and more.

Why see this film? It was probably a ground breaker in some scenes: the frisky male bonding in the after-game showers; Karen Black's scene with Tepper in the car will catch you a little off guard - but it's the first use of a word I hadn't witnessed in film before; and the casual and unexpected use of nudity overall. There are probably others I'm omitting.

Look for a nice surprise of a young Cindy Williams in one of her first films; a thin David Ogend Stiers; Mike Warren fresh out of his powder-blue UCLA uniform and readying for a dark-blue TV uniform; Robert Towne - Actor; and a whole lot of folks simply playing themselves.

Now: any connection between Harry Gittes last name, Robert Towne, and a certain character in Chinatown and the Two Jakes?

It gets a "7" based on Karen Black. You'll see why.
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Disappointing, considering those involved.
oceanpark553 May 2011
Poorly developed and fragmented movie about a confused college basketball player with a host of predictably militant and/or cynically unhappy acquaintances characteristic of 1960s academia where the film is set. I'm not sure whether we are supposed to like or even care about the characters or not, but in any event I didn't feel much of either for any of them. Jack Nicholson directed this movie with a taste for profanity and nudity. I guess he thought he was being provocative and progressively mirroring the changing cultural mores of the time. He would have fared better by putting his energy into developing characterization and refining the script that he co-wrote instead. All in all a disappointing movie which left me with a feeling of indifference about it.
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Counter-culture youth drama underlined with 'draft' paranoia...
moonspinner5516 June 2009
Fashionably fragmented, yet infuriatingly half-realized character-study, an examination of the different personalities of two college roommates: a talented but undisciplined star basketball player, and a pot-smoking, womanizing rabble-rouser. We never learn why these young men are friends. They may share confusions about the world and their places in it, but they don't seem to have anything else in common. Making his directorial debut, Jack Nicholson--who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jeremy Larner, based upon Larner's book--doesn't introduce us to the characters with any clarity, nor he does shape the scenes to help us identify with anyone on the screen. There are some very decent performances here (particularly from newcomer William Tepper in the central role), but most of the picture is unformed (perhaps intentionally), sketchy or unsure. Bruce Dern plays the hard-driving basketball coach, Karen Black is the older, married lady Tepper is having an affair with, and Michael Margotta is Tepper's wayward friend (in an off-putting, over-the-top performance). Nicholson fails to set up the sequences with any particular flavor, preferring (I assume) to let the character interaction dominate the film's tone; his script is no help either, and as a result it is unclear whom we're supposed to sympathize with. Small, random moments do work (a supermarket fight between Tepper and Black, Dern visiting Tepper in his dorm-room, all of the scenes set on the court), however the entire third act of the picture is an excruciating mess. Hoping to juxtapose an all-important b-ball game with a sexual assault, Nicholson shows no style at his craft (nor does he earn points for chutzpah, as his staging of these events is squashy and ugly). When a director goes out of his way to humiliate his actors, one has to question his motives in doing so. Perhaps if "Drive, He Said" ultimately made some sort of powerful statement in the bargain, audiences could forgive the filmmaker for his lapses in judgment and taste. Unfortunately, the perplexing closer is as dumbfounding as is much of the rest of the movie. *1/2 from ****
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JasparLamarCrabb24 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Jack Nicholson directed this story of a college basketball star coming to grips with the fact that world is a miserable place. William Tepper is exceptional in the lead role, strung along by his would-be girlfriend (Karen Black) and badgered into being a "good boy" by his win-at-any-cost coach Bruce Dern. The fact that Black is also the girlfriend of one of Tepper's professors really complicates things. Disillusioned and, as he says, feeling disengaged, Tepper personifies an entire generation of late 60s/early 70s youths mired in angst. His roommate is played by Michael Margotta. Margotta is slowly goes mad with paranoia, anger and a pretty sad determination to avoid the draft. The film is melancholy but with a lot of touches of humor, particularly involving Dern's hyperactive pep talks. Black is fine and writer Robert Towne plays her boyfriend. Henry Jaglom, David Ogden Stiers (who, as a professional basketball team owner, has a pretty amusing exchange with Tepper during a contract negotiation), and a silent Cindy Williams are in it too. Nicholson's solo directorial debut is a stunner. He would never direct again with such a sure hand. The great cinematography is by Bill Butler.
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Dull and pointless, with annoying characters
pbyhistorian22 October 2006
I went to see this movie at our college theater thirty years ago because I liked Bruce Dern in Silent Running and Family Plot. To this day (sorry Jack Nicholson), it is still the dullest movie I've ever seen. It just went on and on with no discernible point and then - it just ended. The lights came up and I watched everyone looking around in confusion. Had the projectionist missed a reel? I've never had the urge to find out. All I remember about the movie is that it was a non-drama about some annoying college basketball players and their coach. The most enjoyable part of the movie was watching the totally mystified audience afterwords. Fortunately, this was just an exception for Jack, Bruce, and Karen Black.
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Michael_Elliott7 March 2008
Drive, He Said (1971)

** (out of 4)

Jack Nicholson's directorial debut is a confussing mess but here goes. The film deals with a troubled basketball star (William Tepper) who's caught in an affair with a teacher's wife (Karen Black). The only person trying to make him go straight is his coach (Bruce Dern) but outsiders keep stepping in the way. The film was also co-written by Nicholson and most of the blame can start right here. The film is all over the place and it seems there are enough story lines for at least five other movies. There's also a subplot with a friend who's trying to dodge the draft, which goes no where and leads to some pretty over the top, wannabe serious moments. The one thing going for the film are some pretty good performances, although it appears Dern is trying to give a Nicholson impersonation. Nicholson's direction hits a few good notes but in the end this seems like something that would have only been shown on TV. Needless to say it's never gotten an official release on home video.
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All the good intentions in the world can't substitute for a coherent script
bob_meg26 May 2014
Drive, He Said, Jack Nicholson's first solo outing as writer/director for BBS Productions, one of the first true indie film powerhouses, is unfortunately also it's first genuine misfire and failure for good reason: the film is virtually unwatchable.

Nicholson, while unquestionably being one of the greatest actors of our time, never seemed to get much guidance (not one of BBS' strong suits) when writing scripts. He co-wrote Head with Bob Rafelson, mostly stoned, and that actually kind of worked given that film's stream of consciousness/acid-trip feel. At least there was a guiding vision (probably by Rafelson) --- a genuine point to be made. That Nicholson was allowed to botch Jeremy Larner's lauded novel (with help from Larner) is inexcusable. It might have worked better had the actors just been allowed to improv all of their certainly couldn't have been worse.

Simple elements of the story --- that the college basketball hotshot hero (William Tepper) is boning the wife of a *professor* (not just a random boyfriend) is just glossed over and left for the audience to assume. It makes no real difference, because this story line (like all the others) never goes anywhere. Characters flounder in and out of scenes, overact, underact, mumble their lines, all seemingly at random. It gives you new appreciation for the directors who can pull this type of renegade filmmaking off well (Rafelson, Altman, Cassevetes). You simply cannot stand back and let the actors do whatever they feel like, which is obviously what Nicholson did. He mistakes indie filmmaking with making a documentary film (and even that's a stretch as most docs have a better sense of story and purpose).

Yes, I know the real point is supposed to be the juxtaposition between the go-go rah-rah pointlessness of the basketball story contrasted with the over-the-top campus radical B story starring the unfortunately untalented (and maybe just undirected) Michael Margotta as a guy so intent on dodging the draft that he will incite riots, streak, attempt to assault and rape a woman in her own home, and then loose an entire room of lab animals on each other just to be declared mentally unfit. It's all as subtle as being hit on the head with a sledgehammer and just as artful and entertaining.

If you can endure Karen Black screaming her lungs out for over five minutes straight, you just might have a chance at sitting through this interminably long ninety minute snoozer. If you buy the Criterion BBS box (an awesome set, by the way), it's worth a look because it's such a freak show, otherwise don't bother.

Note that when you read a positive review of this movie though, it is usually slathered with praise about it's nostalgia and social value/accuracy as a "gritty portrait of our times" in regards to early '70s campus friction.

There's a good reason for that too: with a movie as flimsily made as Drive, He Said, you MUST bring something to the equation yourself. God knows it isn't on the film itself.
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Member of the cast
cbljsteers25 September 2007
As a member of the cast, I was a member of the band at all the basketball games, I would like to let the world know after being in the movie, that we were not allowed to see it since it was banned in Oregon. This was due to the producers and the director breaking the contract with the University of Oregon where it was shot. Seems that the U of O sign was shown. While we were shooting, we were allowed to eat several meals with the cast and production staff. Mr Nicholson was quite memorable for being one of the most ill-mannered men I have ever met. Quite a time for a young 20 year old. BUt certainly not what campus life was really like in the late 60's and early 70's despite what Hollywood may think. Trombone player from Oregon
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He said what?
Bob Taylor12 June 2016
(...) shall we &/ why not, buy a goddam big car/ drive he sd, for/ Christ's sake, look/ out where yr going. (I Know A Man by Robert Creeley). This poem is recited at the beginning of the film; I guess Nicholson was trying for some cultural reference that escaped me. The times were rough on those who sought meaning in the arts; there were too many filmmakers, painters, writers who were more interested in reshaping their consciousness than communicating with the world.

I give this 4/10 because of Karen Black, because of the basketball sequences that are quite well shot, because Black and Tepper have an entertaining argument in the supermarket. The rest of the movie doesn't interest me in any way. It will go into the bargain bin of film history along with Head, Alice's Restaurant, The Strawberry Statement, Zabriskie Point and many more once lauded, now forgotten efforts.
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Jack Nicholson's "Student Film"
cultfilmfreaksdotcom15 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
As most people know, Jack Nicholson is a rabid basketball fan. He has his own center seat at the L.A. Lakers games and even before becoming really famous, according to Roman Polanski in a CHINATOWN interview, he furiously demanded to watch a televised game in his trailer...

So it may come as no surprise that Jack's directorial debut, a few years before that, would center on a college basketball player drawing crowds during the "turbulent" hippie era.

The games and practices are filmed nicely, combining a shaky documentary style with creative editing that went into other BBC productions like EASY RIDER, in which Jack co- starred, and surreal aspects of HEAD, that he co-wrote.

Bruce Dern's hard-nosed Coach Bullion wants to win games, and his star player Hector, played by William Tepper, best known as Tom Hank's uptight brother in BACHELOR PARTY years later, is the perfect fit for the role – but only in one important aspect: He's tall and can play the game really well.

Unfortunately Tepper isn't interesting enough to carry the story along. Remaining in peripheral rhythm with Gabriel, his rebellious roommate, Hector, like the film itself, isn't sure whether to center his attention on basketball or the student revolutionaries, and winds up meandering pointlessly in-between.

As the bushy-haired radical, Michael Margotta's Gabriel is the token messianic anti-hero. From heading a non-violent guerrilla raid during an opening game, to feigning insanity to avoid the Vietnam draft, he eventually takes personal wrath on Karen Black's Olive, who, as Hector's on/off girlfriend having an affair with an enigmatic character played by writer Robert Towne, is, compared to her standout performance in FIVE EASY PIECES, ultimately wasted in a filler role.

Nicholson juggles noisy basketball games and the hippie students gathered with Henry Jaglom's radical campus professor, while June Fairchild, best known as the Ajax-snorting lady in Cheech and Chong's UP IN SMOKE, appears as a cheerleading hippie. The soon to-be- famous Cindy Williams turns up in a quick cameo and future HILL STREET BLUES actor Mike Warren, as one of the players depending on Hector's talent, simply wants the team to go all the way.

DRIVE, HE SAID tries really hard to capture drug culture angst and, straying from a sport providing the core of the film's energy and purpose, and with two leading actors not strong enough to carry either the athletic or protest story lines, is more of a curio for anyone interested in what Nicholson was up to before blasting off into cult, and then mainstream, superstardom.
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One of the worst movies I've ever seen
PR-78 March 1999
Some movies are repellent but still fascinating (Pulp Fiction); others are simply boring. This movie has an almost unique feature of being both utterly repellent and totally boring. By the end I didn't care about any of the characters, I just wanted all of them dead so I could get out of the theatre.
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Where can I get a copy?
bobpetow26 December 2006
This was a very interesting movie, as it was Jack Nicholson's directorial debut, and included several other stars before they "became big" such as Bruce Dern and Karen Black. I was an extra in this movie when filmed on the University of Oregon campus/in Eugene area in 1971. Before it came out in theaters, I had left the country for the Peace Corps. When I returned, it had come and gone but I never got a chance to see it.

I remember one of the scenes was filmed with a camera inside a basket ball, and was passed back and forth across the court running from one end to the other to "get a perspective from the ball's viewpoint".

Anyone seen any copies (vhs or other options for getting a copy)? Would love to see it, as I was in several scenes but again never saw it.

Thanks for any leads or ideas of where one would go to get more info.

Bob Petow (
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Absolutely Awful
fleagles13 December 1999
This has got to be one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It is (I think) a story of a rebellious college basketball player, his tough-but-fair coach, his girlfriend, and a fellow student (played by Michael Margotta) who has continual nervous breakdowns. The story goes nowhere, there is zero character development, there is nobody to care about, and the performances, with the exception of Bruce Dern as the coach, are terrible. It is hard to believe how a talent like Jack Nicholson could direct such an awful movie. Make sure to avoid this turkey.
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tour de force
terrancethecritic22 October 2002
Basketball can be a funny game. Or business, perhaps? There are baskets and hookers just like in the real sixties. This modern-day reinactment confronts society head-on, warts-n-all, and we (the collective EYE) are the better for it. Bruce Dern, as the salty sea crumudgeon, takes us on a whirlwind tour of buzz and flash, dumping us at the doorstep of insanity. His crusty ol' captain routine reminds one of Burgess Meridith, or Uncle Charlie had HE been ye ol' coach roaming los sidelines. Their are many animals (tigers, spiders, etc..) and they serve as romantic counterparts to the understated elegance of Miss Karen Black in her finest turn since Burnt Offerings. Add it all up and the score is Jack Nicholson 100, Audience 101. EVERYONE WINS!!! 5 OUT OF 5 CUPS OF BLEACH!!!
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Drive, He Said
Coxer9913 July 1999
Some dazzling basketball sequences, but the script about a disilluiosned youth lacks polish all the way through. Dern is perfect as the edgy basketball coach. Nicholson directed (debut) and co-wrote the film with Jeremy Larmer, based on his novel.
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A Different Look at Vietnam
gavin694222 September 2014
Hector (William Tepper) is a star basketball player for the College basketball team he plays for, the Leopards. His girlfriend, Olive (Karen Black), does not know whether to stay with him or leave him. And his friend, Gabriel (Michael Margotta), who may have dropped out from school and become a protester, wants desperately not to get drafted for Vietnam.

This film marks Jack Nicholson's directorial debut, a chair he would not return to often. The casting was nothing special (though Karen Black is always great); the best part may be Bruce Dern as the coach. Some day he will get the full respect he deserves.

Roger Ebert found the film "disorganized", but also said it was "occasionally brilliant" with the performances being "the best thing in the movie", including the "laconic charm" of Tepper. This seems fair. For all the good things that can be said, it never really hits home hard enough, and may be dated.
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Where can one find this movie?
thekramers213 February 2008
I lived in Eugene in 1971. Took part in some of the "crowd'' scenes. Never had a chance to see the movie, though. Something, though I'm not sure what, recently jogged my memory about the filming of "Drive.''

I've read the reviews. Not surprised. The crew seemed a little wigged out, like most of us were in those days. I had read something in the Register-Guard about the film needing extras, so some friends and I went to take part. One of those crazy, 1970s Eugene days. Oh those were the days!

At the time, I didn't know any of the names of the people in the film except director Nicholson. Would love to have the chance to see what was banned in Oregon at the time. I remember the filming causing a stir, but never saw the completed project to find out why.

Are there any copies of this movie available?
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