American music producer James William Guercio's one-off dalliance with filmmaking, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE is made when he is only 28-year-old. It stars Robert Blake as a motorcycle cop Johnny Wintergreen who patrols rural Arizona highways and aspires to be a homicidal officer.
The movie opens with a promising panache hardly betrays that Guercio is a greenhorn, conjecturing through its voyeuristic close-ups, audience would soon realize a face-unshown man prepares to kill himself, yet, Guercio's camera also cunningly suggests that he is cooking beef streaks at the same time. Then, boom! He blows himself dead through a shotgun, which unusually aims to his chest rather than the usual easy target, the head, it compellingly sets a paradoxical situation that one immediately knows there is something fishy about the whole act.
Also, before the title card, Guercio takes a tongue-in-cheek tack to introduce our unlikely hero, big Johnny, the camera lurks and swirls in the apartment where Johnny expertly gratifies Jolene (Riley) in bed, before revealing that Johnny is small in stature. When a man's masculinity is stunted by his appearances, it gives audience an idea why he is so eager to achieve something, to compensate the ingrained inferiority complex is a shoo-in. So the apparent-suicidal case becomes his stepping stone to be recruited by detective Harve Poole (Ryan) for his astute observation that it is indeed a murder underneath the hatched facade.
But the ensuing police procedural dampens Johnny's driving enthusiasm, especially after witnessing Harve hectors physically abuses and a group of hippies to milk information about their prime suspect, a drug dealer Bob Zembo (a cameo of Peter Cetera, one of the four CHICAGO members who take on acting roles here apart from their contribution to the picture's soundtrack), and the final straw is an awkward confrontation between him, Harve and Jolene, the latter turns out to be Harve's lover, and spitefully lambastes Harve's incompetence to make her contented and laments her ill-fated destiny, working in a barrelhouse after a dashed Hollywood dream, Johnny and Harv fall out afterwards.
Unambiguously Guercio conducts a half-hearted approach to solve the murder mystery, after trifling with a biker-chasing set piece to keep the action moving, the movie falls back on Johnny's "inner voice" for an expedient epiphany to realize who is the murderer at the end of a MADURA concert, with reasons unexplained, but that is not enough, ultimately there would be another revelation later, to further muddle the water and leave the opening scene ever so ambivalent when one retraces back, before reaching its chilling coda, completely hits viewers like a cold shower, willful but symbolic, overall, it is a loner's world against the canvas of a vast Arizona landscape, everyone in the story is either indolent, disillusioned or corrupt, only the hippies' community stands in as a getaway from the unpleasant reality, but their guarded world is defiant towards the mainstream values, Johnny represents a tragic hero who is doomed because of what he represents, an authority figure, cannot be saved by his amiable personality and all-too-well intentions.
Performance-wise, everyone on board is on a par with excellence, Elisha Cook Jr. is heart-rending to watch in his committed lunacy, Mitchell Ryan expertly imbues a certain degree of passing diffidence in his bombast mannerism and Billy Green Bush is so organic as Johnny's shade- hogging partner and nails his big scene with a flourish, so is Jeannine Riley, manages to steal some limelight even with a role riddled with platitudes. And our leading man Robert Blake, ever so self- reliant as a pipsqueak trying rather hard to chase his dream, only to get short-changed by a cynical world.
ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, also bolstered by a symphonic soundtrack produced by Guercio himself and its striking wide-screen landscape sensation shot by DP Conrad L. Hall, is an astonishing debut feature, if it intends to be more of a zeitgeist-capturer than a gripping detective story, then I must give my whole-hearted congratulations to the crew, mission grandly accomplished!
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