Director: Richard C. Sarafian.
Starring. Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Dean Jagger USA. 1h 38m.
I have some vague recollections of watching this film as a kid, which prompted me to revisit many years ago and I totally fell in love with Kowalski his amphetamine fueled ride through the desert, in one of my all time favourite cars, a gorgeous Dodge Challenger RT 440 Magnum; taking grindhouse to the brink with some strong biblical and mythical undertones, accompanied over the radio by a blind messiah and awesome rock music, for me it’s the perfect combination. Most movie lovers will cite Steve McQueens Bullit (1968) as being one of the best car chase movies, and while I can’t disagree I think this film is brilliant contender for the top spot.
Everything about the film is under the surface, but on the face of things, it’s just a guy who’s hired to get a car from point a to point b in the quickest possible time, after visiting his dealer, he fills up on Benzedrine pills and makes a bet to be there a day sooner, hops in a Dodge and heads out on a daring adventure filled with pretty unusual characters.
It’s pretty easy to dismiss the movie as a mindless road movie, after all a majority of the film is a bit dukes of hazard with Kowalski running from the police in dynamic chases, all of this is top notch cinema but for me the magic works with the connection Kowalksi has with the few people he finds on this trail including a gay couple who try to rob him and after blowing a tire and getting lost he encounters a prospector (Dean Jagger) who catches rattlesnakes for a Pentecostal Christian commune.With all of these characters and the flashbacks a picture if painting of a man trying to stay numb while outrunning his demons.
We learn a lot about Kowalski along the way, not just about his full throttle driving skills and quick wits, the curly headed hippy is a bad as in his own rights. He’s a Vietnam vet, a former police officer, a race car driver and is pretty decent on a motorbike too, but today we’d just assume he’s living out PTSD (not quite like the turtle in Meet the Feebles, but pretty close), as we’re more enlightening but it’s never addressed in the movie, the only person who does address Kowalski is Super Soul (Little) an African American DJ for KOW radio who labels Kowalski as the Last American Hero and helps guide him through a few police blocks and other obstacles. it’s this electric relationship which really makes the film great, there’s a connection between the two, something almost mystical, the blind DJ is so far removed from the chase but is able to connect with Kowalski over the airwaves, guiding him and spurring him on when he feels like giving in, they have an untold connection and with only one way of communication it’s a strange paranormal bromance.
Charlotte Rampling is credited in the movie but in a lot of versions I’ve seen her scene is cut, originally due to the scene involving pot smoking, I guess popping pills is ok but actually getting high wasn’t in the 70’s either way if you can watch the most put together cut I recommend it for narrowing down the many theories about the curious ending to this damned near perfect movie.
There was a remake of this film made in 1997, featuring a 1970’s Dodge Challenger and starring Viggo Mortensen, in this version Kowalski has a first name, Jimmy and Super Soul becomes a libertarian shock jock named The Voice, the film plays out all the regular steps of the original but without any passion or drive and it’s so straight laced and without any mystical elements it sucks and this is probably all I can say about it, so don’t expect another review..
R – Duel (1971), Mad Max (1979), Bullit (1968)
L – 50 Road Movies, 15 Movies from 1971 still worth talking about Vol 1, 70 for the 1970s, My Favourite Cars in Films,