From Police Officers

Electra Glide in Blue: One Motorcycle Cop’s Violent Ride to the Truth of Corruption

Electra Glide in Blue. 1973. Directed by James William Guercio. Screenplay by Robert Boris.
Starring Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush, Mitchell Ryan, Jeannine Riley, Elisha Cook Jr., Royal Dano, Peter Cetera, & Terry Kath. Guercio-Hitzig.
Not Rated. 114 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★
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Disclaimer: certain portions of this review will contain spoilers about the film’s ending. If you’ve not yet seen this underappreciated little gem, I suggest getting yourself a copy before heading any further. You’ve been warned.

This is one unique flick. Robert Blake’s not exactly what I would call movie star material, though on occasion I’ve enjoyed his performances. Later in his career he frightened the life out of me in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. But early on he played an Arizona motorcycle cop named John Wintergreen, a short man trying to compensate, always wanting to be a bigger man than he physically can. He’s a man with something to prove. Electra Glide in Blue isn’t your typical cop crime-drama. There’s a huge mystery element involved, as John finds himself promoted to Homicide finally, his dream, after a case of suicide is debated.
But the most interesting part about this film isn’t even the solid screenplay from Robert Boris. The movie has a nice style, not exactly like all the similar pictures coming out at the end of the 1960s, early 1970s. One time feature film director James William Guercio makes this an interesting, stylish ride. The atmosphere, its look and feel, makes the story that much more interesting. All the while, we question the culture that exists in the background of the lives of police officers, their code, the way in which they tie their identity to a symbolism of law and power. Hard to believe I’d not heard of this until recently. I’m glad to have tracked this down through Amazon. Worth every penny and second. Don’t know why Guercio never directed another film, but sure glad he bothered to shoot this picture.
To Guercio!
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Cop culture is on display constantly and makes us question the bravado and machismo of their profession. The whole construction of masculinity behind being a cop, that romantic ideal. First prominent moment is when John shoots a picture of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider, using the banner poster they’re on as target practice. Y’know, shootin’ hippies. They are the anti version of what Electra Glide in Blue concerns. That movie concerned two bikers looking for freedom, the actual American Dream. This movie concerns policing the American dream, protecting it, and the concept that you can reach out and take what’s yours, with hard work, a clean conscience. But within the rigid guidelines of the law. At one point later John and another officer pull over a hippie-looking cat, trying to make sure he’s not dealing drugs, or committing a Manson-style murder, I’m sure. So it’s the American dream, under American rule, so on. Not exactly freedom. Just freedom to the law’s liking.
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Before any of that the camera makes it clear that John sees being a policeman as being nearly fetish-worthy. Right at the start, we move through his routine of putting on the uniform, watching his hands do up the shirt, getting himself ready. The camera stays tight, close up. Once more, this happens after John gets his big shot at being a Homicide detective. He trades in the blues for a suit, a nice shirt, boots, of course the hat, so on. Again, this sequence mirrors the beginning. John feels as though it’s all a mirage, even if he doesn’t readily admit this fact. But it’s all a blanket identity, made up out of clothes. That and some swagger; another point of contention for a man of smaller stature. Funny enough, John gets so caught up in dressing for his new detective assignment that he actually forgets to put his pants on, then heads back inside. Easily, director Guercio and writer Boris accomplish so much in a limited frame of time, setting up Wintergreen’s character with these couple sequences paralleling one another. At the same time this likewise opens up the larger themes of the film, in examining cop culture, as well as how its fragile masculinity can often lead to tough places.
Certainly by the end, John is done in because of his idealism. This movie is the anti-idealist cop picture. It works against John that he’s so honourable. His lack of corruption and ideal for the symbolic heroism of police officers is what leads to the film’s violent finale. One that encompasses John and everything he’s about in a tragic sense. Literally, this last scene with John epitomizes the belief that no good deed goes unpunished.
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This entire film looks impressive, each scene is beautiful from landscapes to the shots of the road, to just capturing Blake as this short yet intense cop – we get times that are funny in that respect where the camera crosses from one tall guy’s head to the top of John’s helmet; other times, the seriousness and the strength in Wintergreen comes out in the way the camera expresses his natural acting. Great directorial choices all around. The cinematography itself is so spectacular. Why? Because Conrad L. Hall, that’s why. Already with a bunch of excellent pictures under his belt, Hall brings the depth and scope of his thoughtful lens to this story. Many stretches of road feel as if they might go on forever, the horizon so vivid. The desert surrounding Arizona, the highways between it, the mountains; everything feels atmospheric, the colour rich. We’re even treated to a couple black-and-white shots nearer the end.
However, it’s perhaps the final moment of John Wintergreen’s patrol that catches us so sharp. The movie blood is a bit underwhelming. Aside from that this is a poignant, heavy moment. Hall slows things down to a crawl, all before John comes to a resting stop on the road, sitting up. Then we pull back along the highway from him, his body left all alone in the road, and the camera seems to recede, fading into the distance. One of the best shots I can remember in a long while, honestly. Hall is a master Director of Photography, his talents show in just about every single frame. Some of the best are the final frames, and the opening ones that show us the road (comes full circle at the end), also giving us a look at Wintergreen suiting up, structuring his idealism from the moment we first lay eyes on him.
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I’ve got to say, this is a 4-star bit of work. Electra Glide in Blue (Electra Glide is a type of motorcycle highway cops often used; the in blue part is self-explanatory or should be) is one of the 1970s flicks that somehow slipped past my radar. Certainly I haven’t seen every movie there is, yet at 4,200 and counting there’s not often a real good movie I didn’t at least hear of along the way. This is one of those that fell into obscurity, except in scattered circles. Maybe part of that has to do with the fact Robert Blake really dropped from the spotlight after the murder of his wife, his trial, his acquittal, and finally his being found liable for her wrongful death, ordered to pay $30-million to the children of his wife. That could have something to do with reluctance to run out and blab about Blake as an actor, or even any of his movies. Not sure.
Regardless, Electra Glide in Blue is a fascinating little movie. It’s unexpected, fresh. Never are the characters cliche, even to the point of being weak a couple times. You just can’t get away from the look, the atmosphere, and best are the themes which writer Robert Boris explores. If you get the chance, watch this one. A ’70s diamond, buried under its stars later infamy and wedged at the box office between films like The Exorcist, Bond caper Live and Let Die, The Sting, Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Enter the Dragon, Al Pacino acting clinic Serpico, Papillon, Westworld… you get the point. Track this movie down, give it the shot. The film, Conrad L. Hall, surprisingly one-time director James William Guercio, ALL deserve that much.

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 4: “Down Will Come”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 4: “Down Will Come”
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Other Lives” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Maybe Tomorrow” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.48.35 AMPoor Frank (Vince Vaughn). He not only can’t deliver a child for his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly), his avocado farm is having a rough go of things. Frank seems to be struggling, though, he hides it well beneath the calm exterior; in a weak moment, he slips into quasi-racism and berates one of his gardeners before Jordan tells him to stop.
One thing with Frank is, starting with Episode Three, we’ve really begun to see the animal side of him come out. The fight with his gangster buddy in the last episode was intense, so were the moments afterward when Frank collected the gold teeth out of the guy’s face. I hope Frank rages on, honestly, because I think he’ll become a force to be reckoned with.
I like the whole idea of dirty and semi-dirty cops versus the character of Frank, who is trying to go legitimate. Jordan argues with Frank about how they’re “back to this”, referring to the old ways of being a street-made man. He tries to instil the concept in her that present situations require serious measures. It’s clear, regardless, that Jordan and Frank have a lot of tension between them, from the hopes of having a baby to Frank’s business dealings. Still, their relationship is strong, yet nothing is ever rosy in the world of True Detective.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.47.38 AMI knew right from the beginning Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) was closeted. It could’ve simply been erectile dysfunction for all I knew, but that first scene we saw him in during Episode One where he couldn’t stay hard with his girlfriend spoke volumes. Just in the way the camera closed in on him; he was concentrating, trying his best to stay interested and keep an erection. Now with this episode, Paul wakes up at his old army buddy’s place in bed. They’ve had a passionate night. Paul flees in a cab and then scolds himself on a city sidewalk – the pain of what’s going on inside him rages, and it’s actually painful (in the right way because of Kitsch’s acting) to watch.
Even worse, as Paul yells at himself and seems to fall apart right in front of us, then reporters swarm him asking about allegations against Black Mountain Security, and one reporter actually shouts out at him wondering if he has a history of violence against women. Very, very interesting stuff. I was interested before, but this episode really brought some heat for Paul’s storyline. I think Taylor Kitsch is doing a great job so far, though, I’ve liked him since seeing The Grand Seduction last year.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.48.05 AMI thought the scene between Kitsch and Farrell early on in the car was fantastic. Two good actors playing off one another. Especially because Woodrugh reveals so much to Ray Velcoro, in a way. The whole angle of Paul’s sexuality doesn’t come out, so to speak, but Ray can see the pain inside the younger cop. First, Ray offers some hair of the dog for Paul to cure the hangover. Then Ray recognizes that Paul has “seen some shit”, and tries to lend a little support. But Paul is cracking at the edges, he tells Ray: “I’ve been listenin’ to them so long I don’t know who the fuck I am”.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.48.51 AMMy feeling is that Paul represents a particular generation of young men nowadays, much like any young men from any time. Young men who have been fooled into believing everything the government tells them – be a good student, be a good soldier, be a good cop, be obedient… but most importantly, be obedient and be what we tell you. Young men who’ve been lied to, told they’re fighting for one thing when it’s really another; they are military men, young guys, going overseas fighting for causes to which they have no allegiance, for politicians sitting at home on their asses while real people die everyday in a desert on the other side of the planet. As Paul says, he’s listened so long that he has no real idea who he is, no true sense of identity. He is denying himself every step of the way and there’s maybe something dangerous brewing inside.
Furthermore, Paul and his girlfriend Emily (Adria Arjona) meet. They talk about how things were left between them. Then Emily reveals she is pregnant and is against abortion, so she plans to keep the baby. Paul, denying his true self worse than ever before, abruptly asks her to get married, to keep the child. There’s no telling what repercussions this will have throughout Paul’s storyline the remainder of this season.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.49.13 AMWe get lots of Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) hovering around her family in this episode. She talks with both her sister Athena and her father Eliot, the enigmatic cult leader. I like the juxtaposition of Ani’s family members; she wants to keep tabs on her sister, but does not like Eliot, they’ve been estranged quite some time. However, the case is bringing her into contact with her crazy dad, as well as with her sister – one simply business, the other personal and business simultaneously.

Now, Ani also faces heat at work for her relationship with the hurt cop. I can see how Ani has become a fighter. She lives in a man’s world, and having to become more like the men around her has lead to becoming more wreckless just like the other lost souls – Velcoro and Woodrugh. If anything, Ani stands to show men and women are no different; we all fuck up, we are all reckless.

One great bit happens while Ani and Ray are visiting her dad. Eliot looks over for a moment and says Ray has the biggest aura he has ever seen, that it “fills the room”. Then he tells Ray: “You must’ve had hundreds of lives.” Ray replies: “Well, I don’t think I can handle another one.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.52.08 AMI won’t go into lengthy details about the main plot’s path. Mostly, I think it’s pretty solid. Another sordid tale of sex and perversion and murder, with a few steady dashes of confusion to spice things up.
The element I enjoy about the main plot, concerning the investigation into the death of Ben Caspere, is how Detective Ray Velcoro truly straddles the middle of the line – he and Frank regularly meet, Ray gives over the information required, and at the same time he is still being bent under the thumb of the police department heads, forcing him to do what he does not want to do. Problem is, Ray is the reason Ray ended up where he is, ultimately. Though, I feel he sees some light at the end of his tunnel.
I still hope to see him break free of the ties which bind and I want to see Ray get some form of redemption. Maybe he’ll have to die by the time it’s all over. I think it’s heading steadily towards that conclusion for ole Detective Velcoro. He certainly doesn’t have much to live for – his own son, possibly the genetic son of his wife’s rapist, is slipping through his fingers. Ray meets with his son, out in the shadows of his ex-wife’s backyard, and gives the kid his own father’s police badge, set in an ornamental case after the old man’s retirement; the sadness in Ray is evident, as he backs off into the shadows while the boy’s mother calls him inside.
I imagine a world where Ray does get what he deserves – I like him, but I think the man has done extremely questionable things along the way believing they are true justice. He knows it, we know it. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. Either way, I think Ray might intentionally throw himself into the fire for a good cause in the end simply because he is craving so badly a taste of redemption.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.51.08 AMThe last ten minutes is a pretty thrilling bit of action. Detectives Bezzerides and Velcoro, along with Officer Woodrugh and other cops, go on a raid which quickly flies south. Gangsters with automatic weapons begin blasting out the windows of mid-sized building; soon, the gunfire makes the building’s top floor explode, sending everyone outside to the ground and no doubt killing everyone inside. More gangsters light the streets up, as Woodrugh, Bezzerides, and Velcoro each try to clear them out. It’s intense, and several cops take bullets – plus a bunch of criminals. As a gangster moves towards an ammo-less Bezzerides, Officer Woodrugh pops a couple rounds into him an takes the guy down.
I really enjoyed the climax of this episode because while the detectives and officer are all on different wavelengths, this massive shootout almost bonds them together. They’re all shocked with the end results, no doubt a departmental investigation will begin to sort out everything that happened, and as the episode fades out there’s nothing but a little awe; the frame freezes, the black crowds in and a song plays over the credits.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.52.19 AMBasically, the aftermath of this shooting will cause some things to happen.
Velcoro is going to pressured into making it look like they’ve got their man in the big rampage at the episode’s finale. However, Frank is still going to know better than to believe that line of bullshit. So we’re going to see the criminal really step up and become the lead in the chase towards an answer to who killed Caspere, and who killed Frank’s man in the same way.
Rolling Stone has already criticized the ending’s freeze frame. I dig it, totally. Part of what I love is how Bezzerides, Velcoro, and Woodrugh each stand around baffled at what has happened – then the frame sticks, fades out. It’s perfect, it captures that moment and literally snapshots it, making it stick. Because you know it’s going to stick to each and every one of them. Certainly Woodrugh, no doubt he has seen enough while with Black Mountain Security to last a lifetime. Can’t wait to see the next episode.
There’s also something else Rolling Stone got wrong – keep this in mind. Detective Teague Dixon (W. Earl Brown) took a shot to the head. Now, the Stone would have you believe it doesn’t matter, as if Dixon was totally inconsequential. That is not the case. Do you remember when Woodrugh was first leaving from meeting his army buddy, back in Episode Three? Teague was sniffing around, even making a comment before that, and had been taking pictures clearly from a bridge above where Woodrugh and his army friend/lover were together. Could we perhaps have reason to believe maybe Detective Dixon was following Paul again? Maybe he followed Paul to his old buddy’s house – of course Paul wouldn’t know anyways, even if Dixon weren’t sneaky, because he’d clearly been wasted before heading over to have some secret sex with his friend.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.49.50 AMWhat I’m wondering is: now that Dixon is dead, will someone find his camera, and if someone does will there be incriminating pictures of Officer Woodrugh on there? We shall see. I mean, it’s clear that Dixon looks at Woodrugh with a sense that he can see through that outer mask – he can tell Paul puts on an air of false masculinity, almost trying to overpower his true self, his true sexual orientation, by being foolishly macho and clearly pretending. I can’t believe that Nic Pizzolatto would lazily have Dixon being suspicious, even with his looks, and then doing all that secret detective work on Woodrugh without it leading somewhere.
Don’t forget – in the very First Episode, as Detectives Dixon and Velcoro quietly investigate Ben Caspere and visit his home, Dixon tells his partner that if anything happens to him, to go and clear his stuff out quickly. Right there and then, I’d wondered if that would have any significance. I think now, it really does.
Will Ray Velcoro go to Teague’s place, remove anything possibly damning, and come to find the camera – complete with pictures of Paul, possibly in compromising photographs?
I can’t wait for whatever happens. Next week should be wild with the fallout of the shooting and the deaths therein.

It seems like the title of this episode implies a few things – just like “Down will come baby cradle and all”, down will come everything on top of the heads of criminals, cops, and everyone in the path of the destruction unleashed.

See you next episode!