I was born in 1972 a year after "Vanishing Point" was released and only saw it for the first time in the early 90s when times were vastly different to how they were when it was originally released. I've watched it a few more times since because it is both an interesting movie but also an entertaining one almost covering what you want what ever mood you are in. That's a surprising remark considering we are essentially talking about a car movie here.
Having just driven across country to deliver one car Kowalski (Barry Newman - The Limey) picks up a 1970 Dodge Challenger and starts the journey from Colorado back to San Francisco despite his boss urging him to take a break. Stopping to load up on uppers Kowalski finds himself betting his friend that he can do the journey in 15 hours. But it is an eventful journey full of run ins with the law, hitchhikers all with a little help from Supersoul (Cleavon Little - Blazing Saddles), a blind DJ with a police scanner.
Okay so at its simplest level "Vanishing Point" is an entertaining car movie which sees the mysterious Kowalski leading the cops a merry dance as he speeds across country. He not only out drives them in the powerful Dodge Challenger but he out thinks them to often seeing the cops made to look like fools. With this side of the movie often matched up to an energetic soundtrack and with the blind DJ Supersoul preaching across the airways it is a lot of fun. But also strangely believable fun as whilst there is plenty of car action none of it is over the top with stunts which appear believable rather than staged to look spectacular.
But for those who need more than simple entertainment "Vanishing Point" also has depth as we have this man of mystery Kowalski who doesn't stop to sleep, swallows drugs and is fearless as he drives across country. As this road trip unravels we learn all about Kowalski via brief flashbacks from discovering he was once a cop who saw how cops were no better than criminals as well as romances. And for those who watched this for the first time back in 1971 I am sure there is some social depth to this story of why Kowalski speeds across country with almost no care.
Now stylistically "Vanishing Point" is stunning with lots of great cinematography from action scenes or just of Kowalski driving. But there are plenty of great static shots where the vast openness of the desert provides an impressive backdrop to Kowalski and the Dodge Charger. Ironically considering this is a movie which actually has very little dialogue with a lot coming from Supersoul it is still entertaining even though we have what feels like long periods of silence.
What this all boils down to is that "Vanishing Point" is a cult classic and it is easy to appreciate why. But for me it is also a great movie which works both on a simple entertainment level but also on another level where the depth comes in to play.