Vanishing Point (1971)

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my thriller entry.

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

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

19 thoughts on “Vanishing Point (1971)”

  1. Bravo, Max! Great review and analysis. You know, I watched this movie several times when I was a kid and, even though I didn’t understand it, I was drawn to it. Then I watched when I was a teenager but I was too stoned to pay much attention to it. Ha! I’ve always been a car girl so I loved the Challenger. Your review has inspired me to watch it again. I hope it has the Rampling scene. I hate when they delete stuff like that.
    Great job.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Pam! I’m glad you liked it. After I watch it I always want to discuss it with people on what their take on certain things were. It’s almost Muscle Car movie + Twilight Zone in a small subtle way…Oh yea I love that Challenger.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I never saw this movie Max, but it does look good and seeing Bonnie and Delanie in the credits would be extra incentive for watching it. I did smoke some joints made with black rolling papers as is shown in the Charlotte scene, but I bet that most people never saw them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your review definitely has me wanting to revisit the film — and the missing scene. Why censors choose to cut up movies! A rating system makes more sense. The film looks like a wonderful time capsule and I love Tarantino’s nod in Death Proof.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My only guess and from what I could find out it was probably for showing them smoking pot…there was no nudity in that scene…of course you had a nude woman riding a motorcycle so it wasn’t that.

      That scene is important to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s like he sees them through different eyes and is influenced in different ways.

      Yea man I love that ending. It’s the little things they don’t explain that make this more than a car chase movie…but…it’s a great car chase movie!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you…fixed now… I did that while writing it up and had to change it…I forgot to change the tag…. I had Charger on my mind I guess.


  4. Have seen this one, it’s a classic of Tarantino’s cinema in LA! It’s cool you’re trying old, exploitation-esque movies on your blog. Didn’t know they could show a completely nude chick back in the day without getting an X rating.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m in it with some other bloggers…he runs it like a draft…for ten straight days 10 different bloggers sends in movies…we all get a 4 day break after the first 10 and then 10 more come in…all in all we are all doing 12 movies each…which is about 2 a month. It’s a pretty cool idea…we have 12 different genres to pick from each week.

      Next week I hit the Film Noir genre…I hope I explained that right.

      Liked by 1 person

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