Highway Patrolman

The thing about ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE — the only film directed (and scored) by James William Guercio — or one thing about it, anyway, is that every shot is a hero shot. Conrad Hall photographed it in Monument Valley so that’s unsurprising. I don’t understand why, even if Guercio wasn’t snapped up as a useful talent at the time, he wasn’t snapped up later by Jerry Bruckheimer, whose signature style (we can certainly call Bruckheimer an auteur of the particular kind of thing he makes) seems anticipated by the aggressively photogenic, operatic and at times homoerotic splendour on show here.

But the cutting, acting, music and script are also impressive. The writing is hard to explain — Rupert Hitzig hasn’t written anything else, either, and Robert Boris doesn’t seem to have written anything GOOD. Maybe he has.

Robert Blake is pretty terrific — his natural, ah, ebullience, constrained by playing a really admirable man — Johnny Wintergreen seems to genuinely want the best for everyone. And he so rarely gets it. Mitchell Ryan, who just died this year, is outstanding as the alpha male cop with a core of decay, and there’s a full-on turn by Elisha Cook Jr.

The movie’s weirdly positioned between copoganda and anti-authoritarian. The hippies are as passive as Eloi, except when they’re murderous drug-dealing Manson types. It’s a much, much better film than EASY RIDER. Guercio’s showing-off is always APPROPRIATE.

Oh, and yes, the cutting. In the spectacular chase scene — slightly gratuitous, but the film’s meandering, seemingly picaresque structure disguises a tightness (screenwriters need to learn to DISGUISE their structures) — much admired by Edgar Wright — the first spill (all the stunts look properly SORE) is just getting started — motorcycle hits car and biker flies over the hood in sudden slomo — and then we cut away to a reaction shot at normal speed…. Hold on it a hair TOO LONG — convincing the viewer that s/he’s not going to get to see the body hit asphalt, because it must have done so already — and then we cut back and we SEE IT.

It’s breathtaking, and though the alternating speed is Kurosawa via Peckinpah, the specific timing of it is unique. One of the three cutters was Gerald B. Greenberg whose list of credits will astound you. John F. Link’s are good too. But for all I know, this sequence was cut by the other guy, who directed some episode of Quincy..


10 Responses to “Highway Patrolman”

  1. Mike Clelland Says:

    Conrad Hall shot a very strange file titled INCUBUS. Lots to say about that, it stars William Shatner — AND – was spoken entirely in Esperanto.

    He also shot MORITURI (1965), a thriller with Marlon Brando and Yul Brynner. Both these movies are in B&W and both feel like extensions of his atmospheric work on THE OUTER LIMITS.


  2. Back in the days when I would see absolutely every film released in the U.S. regardless of obscurity, I saw this, after a desolate period of about thirty real stinkers, in its brief one week run, and it had the effect of reviving my faith that the American cinema had a greater purpose than my simply growing older in the dark. A remarkable film in many ways and you’ve beautifully crystallized many of the reasons I unconsciously found it so appealing (though unaware of them at the time).

  3. Oh, I picked up Morituri and put it in a heap with other stuff, unable to muster the enthusiasm, but I have a good reason to watch it now besides Brando. I just don’t have time…

    It points to a basic flaw in the capitalist system when a talent like Guercio escapes after making just one film. Now, if he were in North Korea he’d have been FORCED to make more…

  4. Guercio’s career and life is really about music. He came up in the 60s as songwriter, producer and guidance counselor to The Buckinghams (Don’t You Care), early producer of Chicago’s first few albums, long time producer and owner of Caribou Sound in Colorado.
    So yes, how he got to direct Electraglide must be an interesting story, but a musician is his main beat.

  5. Mike Clelland Says:

    Well, MORITURI looked beautiful! The claustrophobia of the ship is beautiful, and there are oodles of tense scenes in the engine room — with glorious canted angles!

    I just did some digging, and William Fraker is also billed as director of photography, and this would’ve been his first feature. Two years later he’d shoot BULLIT and ROSEMARY’S BABY.

    INCUBUS was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, who wrote a slew of OUTER LIMITS episodes. This movie has the same dreamlike atmosphere of that series. I searched to see what you’d written about THE OUTER LIMITS, and was happy to find a few posts, and one where I’d left a comment.


    INCUBUS was shot around Big Sur California, and this was the location of The Estlin Institute, where Leslie Stevens played an integral role in the 60s and early 70s. Estlin was the epicenter of the west coast new thought movement, and much of our present-day new-age ideas can be traced back to their influence.

  6. It seems that Guercio was supposed to just produce Electra Glide, with one of the writers directing, but then he fired the guy and took over There are ill feelings.

    Per IMDb, Fraker was camera operator on Morituri, which makes sense. His style seems related to Hall’s.

  7. I have often thought that ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE should get the crown usually given to Laughton and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER–best one-shot movie. (Jose Quintero would be in the running as well, but he directed for television in addition to his one theatrical feature)

  8. Throw in Herk Harvey as well!

    I haven’t seen The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone…clearly I must.

  9. “Screwnwriterw need to learn to disguise their structure” my favourite example of this is I Vitelloni – it really seems like a rambling, enjoyable assemblage of stuff just happening, and then at the end, you realize just how tightly scripted and beautifully set up the whole film is

  10. Fellini (and his many writers) was MASTERFUL at story. Again, Nights of Cabiria seems like disconnected fragments until you see the pattern. at the end. He did choose to make some films that broke the structure apart completely, but it was knowingly done.

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