Vanishing Point (1971)
March 28, 2016 4:00 AM - Subscribe

During the 1970s, car delivery driver Kowalski delivers hot rods in record time but always runs into trouble with the highway cops.

Vanishing Point is a 1971 American action road movie directed by Richard C. Sarafian and starring Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, and Dean Jagger.

The film is notable for its scenic film locations across the American Southwest and its social commentary on the post-Woodstock mood in the United States. (wikipedia)

75% on RottenTomatoes - 82% Audience Score

• The car featured in the film is a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, with a 440 cubic-inch V-8, and not a 426 Hemi V-8 (as is often believed). Eight white Challengers loaned from the Chrysler Corporation were used during the filming.

• A 1967 Camaro shell (ie with no engine) loaded with explosives was used for the final crash. You can see the "Camaro" fender nameplate upside-down in the lower left corner of the screen after the crash.

• The distance from Denver to San Francisco via Hwy 50 (mostly and approximately) is approximately 1214 miles. Divide this by the 15 hours Kowalski is trying to achieve averages 81 miles per hour. This is not impossible across the straight desert roads depicted in the film. If Kowalski had held it down somewhat going through the mountains, he may have been able to make it.

• Kris Kristofferson was considered for a part. His then wife, Rita Coolidge, has a small role in the film. Charlotte Rampling had a role as a hitchhiker whom Kowalski met while en route, but her scenes were deleted before the US release. The scenes were re-inserted for the UK release. The DVD release includes both the US and UK versions.

• The squad car rollover was anticipated by stuntman Carey Loftin. He'd warned Sarafian and John Alonzo. Sarafian joked "Now I'll know where to put the camera."

• Steven Spielberg named it as one of his favorite films.[24]

Death Proof (2007), the Quentin Tarantino contribution to the faux-exploitation "double feature" Grindhouse (2007), features a chase involving a Dodge Challenger resembling the one seen in Vanishing Point (not being an R/T model and having an automatic transmission). Death Proof also references the film by name repeatedly calling it "one of the best American movies ever made". The car in the film also has the license plate OA 5599

Original Trailer on Youtube.

Remake - Vanishing Point, a 1997 television remake of the 1971 cult film, aired on the Fox television network. The remake was directed by Charles Robert Carner, and stars Viggo Mortensen, Jason Priestley, Peta Wilson, Christine Elise, and Keith David, and the same model 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T as in the original.

This movie is a selection of the Shut Up And Drive! Club.
posted by valkane (9 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Shut Up And Drive! will be screening this film tonight at 9:00 pm ET on You can watch the screening by clicking here.
posted by valkane at 4:03 AM on March 28, 2016

This film is so very early-70's. It's not the existential stoned out desert roads of Easy Rider - it's got a 'stuck with the hangover' amped up ragged egde, and it's taking place just across the desert from where Hunter S. Thompson's Raoul Duke is giving the speech about how you can almost see the high mark where the wave crashed.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:32 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love this movie so much. It's just gorgeous to look at and so lean and minimalist (minimal cast, minimal dialogue, minimal locations). The pacing is so slow and dreamlike, even though Kowalski is hurtling towards doom (or is he?) at high speed. It's hard to know at some points what is real and what might not be (I always feel like, despite the obvious early 1970's trappings, it's almost post-apocalyptic/Mad Max/alternate universe feeling). It's just about my favorite road trip movie.

'70's movies are some of my all time favorites, and this one is definitely in my top 5.
posted by biscotti at 5:14 AM on March 28, 2016

My introduction to this movie was Primal Scream's really rather excellent track "Kowalski." I owe them big.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 5:53 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, I'll just leave this here (it's actually pretty good).
posted by biscotti at 5:58 AM on March 28, 2016

One of my "turning point" movies, where I caught on that these flickering shadows weren't just for an ephemeral moment of entertainment. I owe it a long-overdue rewatching.
posted by arzakh at 4:48 AM on March 29, 2016

Kowalski is totally a younger Jack Donaghy.
posted by rhizome at 9:00 PM on March 30, 2016

God, between rewatching Blazing Saddles last week, and this? We lost Cleavon Little way too damned fast.
posted by MarchHare at 3:07 AM on April 2, 2016

(What was under the sign of J. Hovah's truck? I think it said REMOVAL but had been updated with a sheet of tin to say REVIVAL?)

I caught this movie on TCM, I'd never seen it before, just heard it referenced.

What follows is the sort of rambling nonsense that goes around in my brain about the seventies, which is how I can get enjoyment out of these kinds of movies that I think are kinda bad in the head otherwise. I will probably repeat shit I said after watching Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

This movie felt a little strange now. It probably seemed sillier than it would have five years ago. "Oh, you think you are living through socially significant times and have something to say about the spirit of America, do ya..."

It's an interesting time capsule. It definitely does that thing I've noticed about the era, which is to be consciously non-racist — less racist than today in some ways — but still being sexist as hell. Like there's this implied bargain being made to dudes.. "Don't be racist. However, there will be hot naked chicks."

There's also the thing of showing lots of different people, a broad diverse collage of ages and faces and types, but then putting like, the able bodied white man at the center, like the chief god of a pantheon. It feels like a conscious cultural idea back then, whereas today it is so deeply assumed, the idea of a range of humanity has been almost completely lost.

When the naked motorcycle girl offered sex to Kowalski I was like, "Lady he's been on uppers for days, his dick's the size of a peanut M&M." Then she shows him the very detailed collage she's been making out in a desert ruin; I guess there is a very good library with a photocopier just out of frame and she is an incredibly fast and thorough researcher. Or she's every other blonde girl in the movie, his surfer gf who professes her love for him then kills herself, which is very mythic; women exist to deify him. It's among the other blessings he will gather, like from his magical black adviser/herald. The white man arrives and gets to be the god-king of this thing, he just embodies it by being cool, a pure individual, being himself and making snap decisions in the moment and not worrying about the net effects of anything even if it ends in annihilation.

That's often a strange element in the myth, too.. an acknowledgment of meaninglessness. Like that's the off-ramp from the mythical high. The seventies fade away with a wink, and say, "It was all a scam, but you loved it baby." It's okay. It's fine.
posted by fleacircus at 9:46 AM on April 4, 2020

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