Vanishing Point (1971) – Richard C. Sarafian

 

The first recommended title for my screening of Easy Rider from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is this road movie that doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

Barry Newman is Kowalski, an ex-cop, a believer in right and wrong, and the freedom that was the American dream that seems to have vanished. Now, he drives cars, delivering them to their destination. His latest assignment, get a white Dodge Challenger to San Francisco.

It needs to be there Monday.

To liven things up a little, he makes a bet, that he can get the car to its delivery point in fifteen hours.

Thus begins a cross-country run that draws the attention of the police, the populace, and the aid of a blind radio announcer, Super Soul (Cleavon Little).

The cops try to catch and stop him, but Kowalski eludes them easily as he puts the Challenger through its paces. What is interesting, however, is that he almost always slows to check that someone if ok after a crash.

There are just moments featured in flashbacks, just enough to give you a hint at the man who is the driver, his time as a police officer, his romance, all of them are barely glimpsed, like a half seen landscape as a car races along it. Always just enough to put things in context.

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The film runs a lean 90 minutes, and there is barely time to take a breath as Kowalski rockets down highways and byways, eluding the police. With Super Soul’s help, the radio deejay has access to a police radio, Kowalski knows who is after them, and where they are. This serves him well, until the police turn on the announcer, trashing his station.

This attack demonstrates the hatred that still was prevalent in the time, and also that the ideas of freedom didn’t seem to be real either; one of the reasons Kowalski has chosen to live outside the laws of the land.

The camera work is great, the Challenger, of course, looks amazing, and the story races along at full throttle. The desert sequence is probably my favorite, just watching the lone tracks left by the car as it tears across the land is very cool, and picturesque.

The pacing of the film is highly enjoyable, the editing is tight, and there is not a moment wasted, as Kowalski tears towards his destination.

This film put me in mind of two others, and I think they may be revisited soon… Smokey and the Bandit, and The Road Warrior. There is a little humor in the film, and the action, and stunt driving are top-notch.

This was my kind of film, and I loved how sleek, and fast-moving it was, just enough of a plot to hang a story thread on, and then just rev it up and let her go…

Nice.

What did you think of it?

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