Robert Blake plays John Wintergreen, a motorcycle patrolman on the highways of the northern Arizona desert in this 1973 film that sometimes defies description. It could be called a crime film because a crime does take place and is a central part of the story. It could also be called the study of a culture and the conflicts between the opposing forces in that culture because the movie begins and ends with Wintergreen stopping a hippie for a minor traffic violation on a deserted Arizona highway. There is much of the drug culture of the sixties and early seventies intertwined in this story along with the reactions of the police to that culture.
I suppose you can decide for yourself what you think the movie is depicting, even though I think that maybe we try to read too much into the movies of today that sometimes were just meant to be entertaining.
In most movie guides, Electra Glide In Blue is listed as and action/adventure film but that category is way too broad. I looked at the film as a character study of a lonely Viet Nam War veteran who’s caught between the hippie culture he identifies with and the police culture he’s trying to be a part of. He’s in a part of police work he despises and his main ambition in life is to get off his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle and into a more respectable line of police work. “I hate that motorcycle they make me ride,” he says at one point in the film.
He eventually gets his wish and is assigned to the homicide unit as a detective, which is an assignment that turns out to be not much more than a driver and an errand boy for the chief detective, Harve Poole who is played by Mitchell Ryan. When Wintergreen embarrasses Poole, he’s demoted back down to his motorcycle and patrolling the roads with his friend Zipper Davis (played by Billy Green Bush).
Zipper, in contrast to John Wintergreen, loves the job of motorcycle patrolman. John can usually find him somewhere along the highway, sitting in the shade, munching on snacks and reading comic books.
The ending of this movie is unpredictable and is one of the more memorable endings I’ve ever seen.
Robert Blake puts in a compelling performance in this movie. It’s difficult for me to say whether I liked his acting better in this movie or in In Cold Blood because his performances were excellent in both films. Other actors to look for in this film are Elisha Cook as the hermit, Willie, and Royal Dano as the coroner. The movie is rated PG because of its violent content but it’s one I’d highly recommend.
- Robert Blake – John Wintergreen
- Billy Green Bush – Zipper Davis
- Mitch Ryan – Harve Poole
- Jeannine Riley – Jolene
- Elisha Cook Jr. – Willie
- Royal Dano – Coroner
- David J. Wolinski – VW Bus Driver
- Peter Cetera – Bob Zemko
- Terry Kath – Killer
- Lee Loughnane – Pig Man
- Walter Parazaider – Member of Chicago
- Joe Samsil – Sergeant Ryker
- Jason Clark – L.A. Detective
- Michael Butler – Truck Driver
- Susan Forristal – Ice Cream Girl