Vanishing Point | 1971
The chief virtues of Vanishing Point come from John A Lonzo’s cinematography, the dusty locations in the Nevada and Utah deserts, and of course the physical action as Kowalski (Barry Newman) races to deliver a motor from Colorado to California.
But although Richard C Sarafian’s cult road movie has earned itself a reference in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, and inspired an album by Primal Scream, it always felt like the studio suits sat down to assemble a post-Easy Rider cliché package – doomed ex-cop, ex-racing driver, ex-surfer Kowalski races across the US, establishing a psychic link with blind DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Little), while flashbacks crop up with the regularity of ad breaks. Yes, I do realise I'm on my own with this one.
Unlike Easy Rider, you can’t follow an easy linear route, particularly during the second half of the film.
Kowalski’s journey begins in Denver, Colorado, picking up the white 1970 Dodge Challenger from the city’s old Denargo Market. Opened in 1939 alongside Union Pacific Railroad tracks, it leased more than 300 stalls to local growers to sell their produce to grocers and wholesalers. After becoming increasingly dilapidated, the whole area, including the nearby 19th Street Ramp up which Kowalski drives, has been totally redeveloped.
You’ll have no more luck with Dan’s Corner Tavern, the ramshackle biker bar where Kowalski stocks up on speed for the drive to ‘Frisco’. Amazingly, this place was real, though about three miles to the northeast, at 5302 Brighton Boulevard, on the corner of Columbine Street, in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood of Denver.
Thankfully still standing is the ‘Radio KOW’ studio from which Super Soul taunts the ‘blue meanies’ and broadcasts encouragement to ‘the last American hero’. It’s the now-empty Goldfield Hotel, Crook Avenue (Veterans Memorial Highway) at Columbia Avenue in Goldfield, a near-ghost town on US Route 95 south of Tonopah, Nevada. A one-time gold town (as you might guess from the name), much of Goldfield was destroyed by a disastrous fire in the 1920s. In those pre-Vegas days, though, the hotel was claimed to be the most lavish in Nevada.
Just over a mile before he reaches Glenwood Springs, Kowalski manages to shake off the cops at the helpfully titled No Name turnoff, which is Exit 119 of I-70. It leads to No Name Creek and No Name Canyon, if you were wondering.
A further 25 miles west brings you to the town of Rifle, where Kowalski avoids a roadblock by veering off US-Route 6/Centennial Parkway, and races along the railway track before wildly swinging right to head north up West Avenue.
He races the guy in the red crash helmet, who ends up careering off the single-track wooden bridge which used to cross Muddy Creek, about two miles north of Hanksville, Utah. The narrow road, running alongside US-Route 24, is no longer used, and the bridge itself has gone. Hanksville was supposedly a supply post for Butch Cassidy (that’s the real one – not Paul Newman) and the Wild Bunch, who would hide out at Robbers Roost in the desert southeast of town.
The ‘Nevada’ border is on US-Route 95 south of Tonopah – way into central Nevada.
Kowalski stops to fill up at a Mobil gas station in Carvers, on State Route 376, about 50 miles to the north, where the attendant triggers off yet another flashback (Kowalski’s partner abusing a female suspect). There’s no trace now of either the gas station or the Carvers bar-café, which stood just north of the town.
Continuing north to Route 50/Lincoln Highway, is the town of Austin where, just ahead of two more bumbling cops, Kowalski tears down Virginia Hill, past St Augustine’s Church and right onto US Route 50. Dating from 1866, St Augustine’s, by the way, is the oldest Catholic church in Nevada.
Heading off into the featureless desert, Kowalski comes across the old-timer collecting rattlers (Dean Jagger), who begs a lift to the revival meeting of the grumpy J Hovah. The striking hill with its rocky crown can be seen back about 100 miles south of Austin, toward Goldfield (the town from which Super Soul is broadcasting), west of US Route 95 on the road to a spot called Gemfield.
The climax, also seen at the opening of the film, takes place at Cisco, on US Route 6, back in eastern Utah border, south of I-70, near the Colorado border. There’s very little of the old Cisco left now, since the I-70 bypassed the town, though the shell of the Shell gas station is still standing, on the south side of 2nd Street/Crescent to Cisco East Road at the junction with Cisco Pump House Road.