John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is a motorcycle cop who patrols the rural Arizona highways with his partner Zipper (Billy "Green" Bush). Wintergreen is an experienced patrolman looking to be transferred to homicide. When he is informed by Crazy Willie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) of an apparent suicide via shotgun, Wintergreen believes the case is actually a murder. Detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan) agrees it is a homicide, after a .22 bullet is found in the man's skull during the autopsy, as well hearing about a possible missing $5,000 from the man's home, and arranges for Wintergreen to be transferred to homicide to help with the case.
Wintergreen gets his wish, but his joy is short-lived. He begins increasingly to identify with the hippies whom the other officers, including Detective Poole, are endlessly harassing. The final straw comes when Poole discovers that Wintergreen has been sleeping with his girlfriend Jolene (Jeannine Riley). The hostile workplace politics cause him to be quickly demoted back to traffic enforcement.
Despite being demoted, Wintergreen is able to solve the murder. The killer turns out to be Willie, who confesses while Wintergreen goads him into talking about it. Wintergreen surmises Willie did it because he was jealous of the old man he killed, who frequently had young people over to his house to buy drugs. Shortly after, it is discovered that Zipper stole the $5,000, which he used to buy a fully dressed Electra Glide motorcycle. Wintergreen is forced to shoot Zipper after he becomes distressed and belligerent, and shoots at Wintergreen and in the direction of an innocent bystander while brandishing a gun.
As the film ends, Wintergreen is alone and back on his old beat, when he runs into a hippie that Zipper was needlessly harassing near the beginning of the film. Wintergreen lets him off with a warning but the hippie forgets his driver's license, and Wintergreen drives up behind his van to return it to him. The hippie's passenger points a shotgun out the back window and shoots Wintergreen, killing him.Robert Blake as Officer John Wintergreen
Billy "Green" Bush as Officer Zipper Davis
Mitchell Ryan as Det. Harvey Poole
Jeannine Riley as Jolene
Elisha Cook as Willie
Royal Dano as Coroner
Hawk Wolinski as VW Bus Driver
Peter Cetera as Bob Zemko
Terry Kath as Killer
Lee Loughnane as Pig Man
Walter Parazaider as Loose Lips
Joe Samsil as Sgt. Ryker
Jason Clark as L.A. Detective
Michael Butler as Truck Driver
Susan Forristal as Ice Cream Girl
Nick Nolte as Hippie (uncredited)
First-time director James William Guercio took a salary of one dollar in order to have budget available to hire Conrad Hall as the cinematographer. During their discussions, it transpired that Guercio and Hall disagreed on how the film should look; a compromise was reached where Guercio would shoot the exterior scenes in a manner reminiscent of John Ford's films (which was the look Guercio wanted to achieve), while Hall could set up and shoot all the film's interior scenes any way he saw fit. According to the DVD commentary, Guercio claims that a majority of the film was shot without permits, because the Arizona Highway Patrol would not cooperate with production. The movie was filmed in Monument Valley and Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Guercio was best known as the producer of the rock band Chicago. Members of the band Chicago appear in the film in minor roles, including Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Lee Loughnane and Walter Parazaider, as well as Hawk Wolinski from the Guercio-produced band Madura. Chicago also appears on the movie soundtrack. The soundtrack album also included a four-page fold-out poster of Robert Blake standing beside his cycle on a bluff overlooking Monument Valley.
Electra Glide in Blue was released on DVD by MGM on March 22, 2005. A Blu-ray was released on June 4, 2013 by Shout! Factory.
The film received a review in The New York Times, which described it as "portentous" but portraying "very ordinary or very embarrassing things: a crudely staged bike chase, or the confessions of a demoralized bar girl in what looks and sounds like a second-year acting exercise in drama school."
The film was entered into the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Robert Blake was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.
In 2012, Time magazine called Electra Glide in Blue "A neglected cult-classic that could have only come from (or have been made in) the early ‘70s." and "It’s a quirky but unforgettable movie — part character study, part examination of an emerging youth culture — featuring some outstanding camerawork from future Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall."