Call it what you want-a lucky coincidence or some sort of sinister conspiracy-but the acquittal of Robert Blake for his wife's murder, days before the film Electra Glide in Blue comes out on DVD, is pretty sweet timing. Seriously, you couldn't come up with a better marketing campaign if you tried. But whatever cosmic alignment was responsible for things working out the way they did is ultimately irrelevant: All that matters is that one of the 1970s' lost classics is finally available on DVD.
Coming six years after In Cold Blood, the crowning achievement in Blake's career, and shortly before his lead role in the television series Baretta, Electra Glide in Blue remains one of the actor's finest moments. Blake stars as Big John Wintergreen, an Arizona motorcycle cop who's tough but fair, valuing his own integrity, honesty and sense of honor above all else. When a fellow officer plants dope on an unsuspecting hippie, Wintergreen wants no part of it. The by-the-book cop spends his days patrolling vast stretches of highway on his Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle, all the while dreaming of moving up the ranks to homicide detective. When Wintergreen stumbles across what appears to be a suicide, he's the only one at the crime scene who refuses to believe it was anything other than foul play. When his hunch is proven correct, Wintergreen is promoted to plain clothes. But his tenure is short lived when the detective training the ambitious Wintergreen discovers that his protégé has been having an affair with his girlfriend.
Written by Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig, and directed by James William Guercio, Electra Glide in Blue is one of those unique films that could only have been made in the 1970s. Owing much of its grand, picturesque imagery to the work of John Ford, Guercio's film is, first and foremost, a modern western. The exterior cinematography by Conrad Hall is on par with any of the work found in Ford's best films, capturing the vast emptiness of the Arizona desert in a way that creates a feeling of lonely insignificance. Hall's cinematography lends itself well to the true tenor of Electra Glide, which is an existential rumination on loneliness and one man's all-consuming desire to live life by his own moral code. In some ways, it exists on the opposite end of the spectrum from Easy Rider. During one scene, Wintergreen is using a poster from Easy Rider for target practice, a symbolic gesture that foreshadows events later in the film.
Regardless of what you might think of Blake as a person, as an actor there's no denying his talent in this film.