Directed By: Bill L. Norton
Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black, Gene Hackman
Tag line: "A Has-Been Rock Star. A Crooked Cop. And a Lot of Money"
Trivia: Seymour Cassel was set to star but left shortly before filming began. Kris Kristofferson was a last minute replacement
The movie opens with a soft ballad, titled “Loving Her Was Easier”, over which are images of a lone man walking down the street, carrying a guitar case. But he's not on his way to a gig; instead, he makes a detour into the local pawn shop, where he hopes his guitar, a memory of happier days, might fetch him a little spending cash.
The man is Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson), a former musician twice arrested for selling narcotics. Having just been released from jail, Cisco's looking to get back on the straight and narrow, and has sworn to his girlfriend, Sue (Karen Black), that he'll never deal again. But life throws him a curve in the form of Officer Lee Holland (Gene Hackman), a corrupt policeman looking to make a little extra cash on the side. Holland asks Cisco to help him sell 100 kilos of marijuana, and what's more, he needs it all sold in less than three days time! Promising to help clear Cisco's arrest record, Holland also isn't above resorting to threats to get his way, leaving Cisco little choice but to put his plans on hold and hit the streets once again.
Kristofferson is superb as Cisco, all the more impressive when you consider this was his first significant film role (he made a cameo in Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie a year earlier). Along with his musical contributions (he wrote and performed four songs that play throughout the movie), Kristofferson gives a confident, almost effortless performance as the title character, a man dealing with a difficult situation as best he can. Even with a solid supporting cast gathered around him, Cisco Pike is a showcase for the singer/songwriter's talents, and he makes the most of the opportunity. In one scene, Cisco and Holland are walking through a park, discussing their new “business” arrangement. Holland is clearly nervous, and doesn't want to talk about the reasons behind his decision to enter the drug trade. Cisco, not satisfied with his proposed partner's responses, continually presses Holland for an answer. It's a good scene for Hackman, who's predictably strong as the shifty Holland, but an even better one for Kristofferson, proving he could hold his own with one of the 70's biggest stars.
Kristofferson himself would reach a level of stardom throughout the 70's, with turns in films such as Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Cisco Pike was his launching pad, the one that showed Hollywood he was up to the challenge. A well-acted movie with some fine music and a strong main character, Cisco Pike is a gem of a film.