Cisco Pike is a decent little early ’70s hippy crime flick, which is probably most notable for being the debut of Kris Kristofferson as a leading man (he had previously played a small role in Dennis Hopper’s wildly experimental The Last Movie.) It was one of the first counter-culture films greenlit by Columbia after the runaway shock success of Hopper’s Easy Rider. However, Cisco Pike was not a hit, and has fallen into obscurity over the years. Despite a short theatrical re-release in 1975, it wasn’t available except in bootleg form till the 2006 DVD release.
Kristofferson is the titular Cisco Pike, a singer/songwriter who has just gotten out of jail after being arrested for drug dealing and is now trying to go straight. Detective Leo Holland (Gene Hackman), who Cisco has had some run-ins with, has stolen some great marijuana from Mexican drug dealers. He offers Cisco the weed, but he wants $10,000 from the sale, and he only has fifty-nine hours to sell it, Holland will also fudge Cisco’s most recent arrest report. Is the promised deal too good to be true? Probably…
The film isn’t quite the lost classic that it could be, but it has such a strong sense of time and place that it’s a great little snapshot. It was mostly shot in and around the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, and also features some great stuff on the Sunset Strip. I’m sure Quentin Tarantino used it as reference for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Reportedly some pick-up scenes were shot during post in New York City, but you wouldn’t be able to tell.
Kristofferson is great in the lead role, he was always a better actor than a musician. Gene Hackman is perfect as this crooked cop. It was shot around the same time as The French Connection, although it didn’t come out til a year later. Karen Black is in one of her more subdued roles of the ’70s, playing Kristofferson’s girlfriend Sue. Harry Dean Stanton appears in a memorable bit part as Jesse Dupre—he is credited as H.D. Stanton. Even Antonio Fargas has a bit part as a drug dealer Cisco is trying to offload some of the weed to, and the Warhol Superstar Viva has a small role as well.
Overall it’s a slight but enjoyable end of the ’60s/beginning of the ’70s meandering crime flick, which is helped by its impressive cast. It may be a better snapshot of the time and place than a film, but at around 90 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The script even had an uncredited rewrite by the legendary Robert Towne—the film’s director, Bill L. Norton, wrote the initial draft.
The film is scored by a bunch of Kristofferson’s own songs, which would be released later on The Silver Tongued Devil and I album. Silver Tongued Devil was one of the film’s working titles; the other was the more generic The Dealer.
The disc from Indicator includes a commentary from Bill L. Norton and film historian Elijah Drenner, and new featurettes (one on the locations and one on the career of one of the supporting players, Joy Bang). The trailer, a TV spot and an image gallery round off the on-disc extras. The booklet includes a new essay by Christina Newland, the original soundtrack EP liner notes, an archival interview with Kristofferson, Stephen Farber’s 1972 article on Cisco Pike, and an overview of contemporary critical responses.