Vanishing Point fulfills my thriller portion of the draft.
This 1971 movie was brought up in 2007 by Quentin Tarantino’s movie Death Proof. In Death Proof, one of the leading characters hero-worships and repeatedly refers to Vanishing Point’s protagonist, Kowalski, who is a car delivery driver.
This movie has a lot of symbolism. It took me a few times it to put it together…and I’m still finding things that I missed.
I was a kid in the 70s and Kowalski reminds me of my dad back then… he looked, and dressed like Kowalski. To describe Kowalski I’ll use what was in the original trailer:
“Name. Kowalski. Occupation. Driver. Transporting a supercharged Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. Background, metal of honor in Vietnam. Former stock car and bike racer. Former cop, dishonorably discharged. Now he uses speed to get himself up. To get himself – gone.”
The whole movie is Kowalski, Barry Newman, driving someone else’s white 1970 Dodge Challenger through the desert after making a bet with his drug dealer that he can’t reach SF in less than 12 hours. He takes a few detours and as the movie goes along you learn about his past through flashbacks. You see that he has been surrounded by death his whole life. You start seeing why he ended up here.
Cleavon Little plays a blind radio DJ (Super Soul ) that can somehow communicate with Kowalski but it is never explained how or why. What does Cleavon’s character represent? Kowalski is a decent man but not perfect. You could call him an anti-hero. He is prepared to die rather than give in to the establishment. A loner, he rejects the norms of both culture and counter-culture…he doesn’t fit anywhere. He is his own man but I’m not sure if he knows who he is.
When I first watched it in the 80s…I thought it was a cool car movie from the seventies with chases. Well yes it is but within the first few minutes when you see two cars passing by each other going opposite directions…something is wrong with the picture. You know Kowalski is in one car and a few minutes later…you wonder if he was in the other also.
It’s the kind of movie that I would love to watch with all of you just to see what you thought about different parts of it.
The 70s gave us some great car movies. Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry, Gone in 60 Seconds (the original one), Macon County Line, and I could continue…this movie is not one of those although I like those also. For the car lover in me…ok the 70 Dodge Challenger is really cool not only to see but to hear.
The one flaw in some versions is the deleted scene. I do have one unusual request…if you see the movie which I really hope you do. Go to youtube and watch the deleted scene that was in the UK version but left out of the American version at the time…my only guess is because of pot smoking. Kowalski picks up a female hitch hiker at night.
As soon as the movie ends watch that scene. To find it you can search for “Charlotte Rampling’s Scene in Vanishing Point” in youtube. It’s pretty clear what Charlotte Rampling’s character symbolizes… and to me it’s important to that film and should be in every version. I had to hunt down a version that had it. Hopefully your version does.
The stand out actors? Barry Newman, Dean Jagger, and Cleavon Little…and the Dodge Challenger! You also get a musical surprise in the desert…Bonnie and Delaney make an appearance as gospel singers…which they were known to be. My biggest question after watching this was why wasn’t Barry Newman a bigger star? I also cannot leave out Charlotte Rampling…in that 7 minute scene she is great.
One note… Director Richard C. Sarafian’s original choice for the role of Kowalski was Gene Hackman, but the studio, “20th Century Fox,” insisted on using Barry Newman if the movie was going to be made. As much as I like Gene Hackman…they made the right casting choice in this movie.
- Barry Newman – Kowalski
- Cleavon Little – Super Soul
- Dean Jagger – Prospector
- Victoria Medlin – Vera
- Paul Koslo – Young Cop
- Charlotte Rampling – Hitchhiker (UK version)
- John Amos – Super Soul’s radio engineer
- Rita Coolidge -Singer
- Robert Donner – Older Cop
- Anthony James – First male hitchhiker
- Arthur Malet – Second male hitchhiker
- Owen Bush – Communications Officer
- Gilda Texter -Nude Rider
- Karl Swenson – Clerk At Delivery Agency
- Severn Darden – J. Hovah
- Lee Weaver – Jake
- Cherie Foster – 1st Girl
- Tom Reese – Sheriff
- Timothy Scott – Angel
- Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – J Hovah’s Singers
- Valerie Kairys – Girls