Yesterday, the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91. Cisco Pike is not one of Stanton’s best films but it is a film that highlight why Stanton was such a compelling actor and why his unique presence will be missed.
Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson) is a musician who has fallen on hard time. After having been busted several times for dealing drugs, Cisco now just wants to spend time with his “old lady” (Karen Black) and plot his comeback as a musician. However, a corrupt narcotics detective, Leo Holland (Gene Hackman), approaches Cisco with an offer that he cannot refuse. Holland has come into possession of 100 kilos of marijuana. He wants Cisco to sell it for him and then Leo plans to take the money and retire. Cisco has the weekend to sell all of the weed. If he doesn’t, Holland will arrest him for dealing and sent him back to prison,
About halfway through this loose and improvisational look at dealers, hippies, and squares in 1970s Los Angeles, Harry Dean Stanton shows up in the role of Jesse Dupree, an old friend and former bandmate of Cisco’s. Jesse is a free-living wanderer, too old to be a hippie but too unconventional to be a member of the establishment. Unfortunately, Jesse also has a nasty heroin habit. Jesse Dupree is a prototypical Harry Dean Stanton role. Like many of Stanton’s best roles, Jesse may be sad and full of regrets but he is not going to let that keep him from enjoying life. Stanton may not appear in much of the film but he still takes over every scene in which he appears.
Stanton is, by far, the best thing about Cisco Pike. As always, Gene Hackman is entertaining, playing the inverse of The French Connection‘s Popeye Doyle and Karen Black is her usual mix of sexy and weird. The weakest part of the movie is Kris Kristofferson, who was still a few years away from becoming a good actor when he starred in Cisco Pike. It is interesting to consider how different Cisco Pike would have been if Stanton and Kristofferson had switched roles. Stanton may not have had Kristofferon’s movie star looks but, unlike Kristofferson, he feels real in everything that he does. With his air of resignation and his non-Hollywood persona, Stanton brought authenticity to not only Cisco Pike but to every film in which he appeared.
Along with Stanton, several other familiar faces appear in Cisco Pike. Keep an eye out for Roscoe Lee Browne, Howard Hesseman, Viva, Allan Arbus, and everyone’s favorite spaced-out hippie chick, the one and only Joy Bang.