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. The film is especially popular with Mopar auto enthusiasts because it prominently features a classic 1970 Dodge Challenger muscle car.
Plot[edit | edit source]
A car delivery driver, Kowalski (Barry Newman), arrives in Denver, Colorado late Friday night with a black Chrysler Imperial.The delivery service clerk, Sandy (Karl Swenson), urges him to get some rest, but Kowalski insists on getting started with his next assignment to deliver a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum to San Francisco by Monday. Before leaving Denver, Kowalski pulls into a biker bar parking lot around midnight to buy Benzedrine pills to stay awake for the long drive ahead. He bets his dealer, Jake (Lee Weaver), that he will get to San Francisco by 3:00 pm Saturday, even though the delivery is not due until Monday.
Kowalski is a Medal of Honor Vietnam War veteran and former race car driver and motorcycle racer. He is also a former police officer, who was dishonorably discharged in retaliation for preventing his partner from raping a young woman. Haunted by the surfing death of his girlfriend, Vera, Kowalski now thrives on adrenaline.
Driving west across Colorado, Kowalski is pursued by two motorcycle police officers who try to stop him for speeding. Recalling his days as a motorcycle racer, he forces one officer off the road and eludes the other officer by jumping across a dry creek bed. Later, the driver of a Jaguar E-Type convertible pulls up alongside Kowalski and challenges him to a race. After the Jaguar driver nearly runs him off the road, Kowalski overtakes him and beats the Jaguar to a one-lane bridge, causing the Jaguar to crash into the river. Kowalski checks to see if the driver is okay, then takes off, with police cars in hot pursuit.
Kowalski drives across Utah and into Nevada, with the police unable to catch him. During the pursuit, Kowalski listens to radio station KOW, which is broadcasting from Goldfield, Nevada. A blind African-American disc jockey at KOW, Super Soul (Cleavon Little), listens to the police radio frequency and encourages Kowalski to evade the police. Super Soul seems to understand Kowalski and seems to see and hear Kowalski's reactions. With the help of Super Soul, who calls Kowalski "the last American hero," Kowalski gains the interest of the news media, and people begin to gather at the KOW radio station to offer their support.
During the police chase across Nevada, Kowalski finds himself surrounded and heads into the desert. After he blows a left front tire and becomes lost, Kowalski is helped by an old prospector (Dean Jagger) who catches snakes in the desert for a Pentecostal Christian commune. After Kowalski is given fuel, the old man redirects him back to the highway. There, he picks up two homosexual hitchhikers stranded en route to San Francisco with a "Just Married" sign in their rear window. When they attempt to hold him up at gunpoint, Kowalski throws them out of the car and continues on.
Saturday afternoon, a police officer and some thugs shouting racial epithets raid the KOW studio and assault Super Soul and his engineer. Near the California state line, Kowalski is helped by a hippie biker, Angel (Timothy Scott), who gives him pills to help him stay awake. Angel's girlfriend (Gilda Texter), who rides a motorcycle nude, recognizes Kowalski and shows him a poster she made of newspaper articles about his police career. Kowalski suspects that Super Soul's encouragement is now being directed by the police to entrap him. Confirming that the police are indeed waiting at the border, Angel helps Kowalski get through the roadblock trap with the help of an old air raid siren and a small motorbike with a red light strapped to the top of the Challenger. Kowalski finally reaches California by Saturday 7:12 pm. He calls Jake the dealer from a payphone to reassure him that he still intends to deliver the car on Monday.
On Sunday morning, California police, who have been tracking Kowalski's movements through electronic road sensors, set up a roadblock with two bulldozers in the small town of Cisco, where Kowalski will be passing. A small crowd gathers at the roadblock. As Kowalski approaches at high speed, he smiles as he crashes into the bulldozers in a fiery explosion. As firemen work to put out the flames, the crowd slowly disperses.
Cast[edit | edit source]