Sunday, 13 December 2009

Incompetence is the worst form of corruption

No 431 - Electra Glide in Blue
Director - James William Guercio

What I'm loving about this Film challenge is that occasionally a film that I've never heard of and completely blows me away. Mostly it has been like Santa Sangre or the Last Seduction (ok but not amazing) but some films have been outstanding:
Hellzapoppin
Spirit of the Beehive
and now Electra Glide in Blue.

I don't know what I was expecting in a 70's cop film, but it wasn't what this film is. This is an outstanding film.

The opening montage is a clever mix of someone preparing chops and someone committing suicide. This then ties together the main plot of the film as police try to figure out whether this is a suicide or a homicide.
But mostly this is a film about corruption. Corruption within the police force. Corruption with criminals. Corruption in hippies even. The only character who seems not to be corrupt is our protagonist, the adorable John Wintergreen. He is just a delightful character who takes immense pride in his role as a police man. The introduction to John is what I expected from a 70's cop film, he is there romancing the women and getting into his smart biker cop gear. It is quick editing and sharp dressing and a funky funky soundtrack. John loves his role as a policeman but wants to improve, wants to become a detective. However he is surrounded by lazy and corrupt policemen like his partner Zipper.
Zipper is happy to just sit around in the shade, reading comics and occasionally victimising hippies. He is the audience's first sign of police corruption as he stops a hippy for no reason, searches him for 90 minutes and plants drugs onto him in order to get him in trouble. There is no reason for this, Zip just really doesn't like hippies.

The hippy-hate continues when John finally finds gets into the detective force and sees his boss Harve beat some innocent hippies for information. It is a level of corruption which slowly disheartens John and turns him into a less excited policeman. It is genuinely sad to see him become more and more disenfranchised with the police force, especially if you compare it with how he is when he originally gets into uniform. I mean when he first puts on the (fantastically cool) detective's uniform it is more than mere pride. It is all out love.

John is the only one who believes that the suicide is homicide and he is proven right. In fact the whole film is about him occasionally having an idea, nobody believing him and then him being proven right.

The police make so many mistakes in trying to solve the crime, and attack so many innocent people, that when the murderer is found (a delightfully innocent Willie) John is furious with the way that the police force have acted.
Even more angry when he finds out that Zip has 'acquisitioned' a motor bike from on of the hippies they had tracked down.

It seems that throughout the film John is attacked and cheated from all angles. That he is gradually beaten down and made to feel that his job is worthless. And yet throughout all this he remains a kind and honest cop. Which makes the final sequence so heartbreaking is that it is the first time he 'cheats' the law, doing somebody a favour because he was treated badly by Zip.
As thanks, the hippies shotgun John in the chest and leave him, slumped and sat up in the middle of the highway.
As the camera pans out further and further you see the complete isolation of the desert and the complete emptiness of it all.
It is a very bleak final shot. Beautifully tragic and a prime example of futility.

It is a surprisingly poignant message for what I thought was going to be funky grindhouse nonsense

2 comments:

PhilH said...

Wonderful, but did you have to ruin the ending?

EK Biddle Esq said...

Just watched this. Excellent stuff. You were right about the ending! My cup of tea!
And it made me want to re-experience a whole bunch of 70's cop shows.