Having absolutely loved Tarintino's Death Proof, I had to check out the film that most directly inspired it; the characters "borrow" a Dodge Challenger because it is the car made famous by this 70's car-chase film. Once I started watching Vanishing Point, a lot of the scenes began to seem familiar, like I'd already seen the film, but I honestly don't remember seeing it before.
The film is chock full of great car-chases. And I appreciate all the work that went into filming these scenes; there's something so satisfying about watching real cars driving fast in uncut, wide shots where you can fully see the stunt-drivers skills and in many cases the actor's. Most car-chases these days are cut so fast, you can barely tell what's going on; clutch, gearshift, intense face, cars flying by, rear-view mirror, outside shot of car, intense face... and over and over.
Beyond the cars, the film isn't all that wonderful, much of the story doesn't make sense if you put some thought into it.
The film is about Kowalski, a former professional-racer and cop, who now runs cars across the country for sale. He's on his way to San Fransisco with said Dodge Challenger, he's forced to speed all the way there, because he's on a strict schedule. But that doesn't explain why he's willing to put the car in harm's way so many different times; at the very least scratching the hell out of the paint, ruining the tires and unknown engine problems. I think the buyer would be more pissed about the condition of the car, than the lateness of its arrival.
Obviously once he's run away from the first 10 cop cars and he's got all of Nevada after him, it's not really about getting the car to the buyer. The film is really a metaphor about rebelling against the establishment. This becomes obvious when Super Soul an outspoken, black, radio-station host, (played by Cleavon Little, most famous for his role as the sheriff in Blazing Saddles,) takes up the cause of Kowalski, trying to build support for him and help him get away. Which causes the redneck cops to come in and trash the radio station.
Kowalski just drives and drives, continuously finding ways to get away from the cops. He comes into contact with all kinds of different folks, a gay couple who tries to steal his car, some kind of traveling minstrel group, and a hippie couple, with a girl who rides around on her motorcycle naked and offers up her body to him. But Kowalski gets off on only two things; speed - the action and the drug. This being a 70's anti-hero flick, ultimately Kowalski has to sacrifice himself for his unintended message to stick.
Vanishing Point isn't a great film, but it's a fun ride, literally; much of the film you feel like you're sitting beside him on his high-speed escapes. As much as half of the film is car chases; and they're all well done and exciting. The not-so-subtle message will probably skip right on by younger viewers these days, but it has some good points for that moment in history. As 70's exploitation flicks go, you couldn't do much better.