Monday, August 08, 2016


John Wintergreen (Robert Blake, at left) is an Arizona motorcycle cop, assigned to a deep desert area, who desperately wants to become a homicide detective. He gets his chance when an old man is found dead in his isolated shack; it looks like an elaborate suicide but John picks up on a couple of clues that would indicate it was actually murder, so Detective Poole (Mitchell Ryan) lets him assist on the case. As it's the early 70s, a member of a nearby hippie commune comes under suspicion, and Poole uses unnecessarily brutal questioning tactics to get information, but Wintergreen sees himself as an unfailingly fair and moral man—when he stops someone for speeding and it turns out to be a Tucson cop, he gives the guy a ticket anyway—and he's upset with Poole's ways. Eventually, Wintergreen figures out who the real killer is, though his discomfort in trying to fit in with the detectives puts him back out on his motorcycle, with a tragic result.

This cult film is the only movie directed by James William Guercio, better known as the producer of most of Chicago's big hits in the 70s. On release, some critics labeled this film "fascist," I'm guessing because it was telling a policeman's story sympathetically—and also because of the visual fetishization of the hyper-masculine leather uniforms and motorcycles. In an early scene, John and his fellow cop Zipper (Billy Green Bush, pictured at right) use an Easy Rider poster for target practice, which could indicate anti-counterculture feelings, to say the least. However, whatever his politics, John wants to be fair and do the right thing. Both cops and hippies come in for criticism in this film, and today it doesn't seem quite as politically charged as it did then. Blake is excellent, making Wintergreen a round character and resisting the temptation to play his as a naïf or baboon. Ryan is fine, as is Elisha Cook as the nutty old guy who stumbles on the death scene. Jeannine Riley, best known for roles on TVs Petticoat Junction and Hee-Haw, is good in the small but important role of John's occasional lover. However, Billy Green Bush practically steals the movie with his tragicomic antics as John's tightly wound cop buddy—he's not comic relief but he does bring an interesting sense of tension (sometimes light, sometime dark) to the film. Pay attention to the hippie commune scene and you'll see some members of Chicago who each have a couple lines of dialogue, and a quick glimpse of Nick Nolte who has no lines. The exteriors, shot in Arizona and Utah by Conrad Hall, are gorgeous, and the interiors bring to mind film noir. An interesting film which deserves a wider audience. [DVD]

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