The Nickel Ride (1974):

Though not as well-remembered as The Parallax View or Night Moves, this crypto-noir character study drinks deeply from the same well of despairing paranoia that flooded much of '70s American cinema. The non-hero is a shady, small-time syndicate operator (Jason Miller) who caps his busy routine, already packed with the usual amount of fight-fixing and bail bonds-shilling, with the acquisition of the keys to L.A. storehouses for stashing hot merchandise. Expecting congrats from his superior (John Hillerman), Miller instead finds grinnin' cowboy enforcer Bo Hopkins on his tail -- he takes off to an isolated log cabin with "cracker wife" (the unheralded Linda Haynes) in tow, though of course no idyll lasts long in post-Watergate existential thrillers. As much of an anomaly in director Robert Mulligan's usually genteel career as his stark rural shocker The Other, the film soaks in somber ambiguity, with relationships kept deliberately muddy and interiors dark enough to develop photos. The growing useless- ness of the main character's outdated bravado in the face of an impersonal, corporate world often crafts a sense of hushed menace as palpable as Alan J. Pakula's, though ultimately Mulligan is too much of a careful craftsman to push the moody vagueness beyond genre conventions and into the country's political/moral hangover. Eric Roth wrote the screenplay. Music by Dave Grusin.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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