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Drive, He Said is a 1971 American motion picture released by Columbia Pictures. It is one of the lesser-known works in the influential group of "New Hollywood" films of the late 1960s and early 1970s made by independent production house Raybert Productions (The Monkees, Easy Rider) and its successor, BBS Productions.[1] Based upon the 1964 novel of the same title by Jeremy Larner, the film, which stars William Tepper, is notable as the directorial debut of Jack Nicholson (who also wrote the screenplay) following his breakthrough as an actor in Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970).[1]

Drive, He Said
Drive he said.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJack Nicholson
Produced bySteve Blauner
Jack Nicholson
Written byJeremy Larner
Jack Nicholson
Terrence Malick (uncredited)
StarringWilliam Tepper
Karen Black
Bruce Dern
Robert Towne
Henry Jaglom
Music byDavid Shire
CinematographyBill Butler
Edited byDonn Cambern
Christopher Holmes
Pat Somerset
Robert L. Wolfe
BBS Productions
Drive Productions Inc.
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • June 13, 1971 (1971-06-13) (U.S.)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

Although it was coolly received at the time, and has subsequently faded into obscurity, the production brought together many significant Hollywood names. Director of photography Bill Butler gained renown for his later work on classic films such as Steven Spielberg's Jaws, Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.[1] Original music was composed by David Shire (then married to Coppola's sister, Talia) and the screenplay included uncredited contributions from future director Terence Malick.[1]

It starred several of Nicholson's friends and frequent screen collaborators in leading roles – Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Robert Towne and Henry Jaglom (although Towne and Jaglom became better known as screenwriter and director, respectively). Several younger actors who became familiar TV faces in later years were also featured in small supporting roles, including David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H), Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley) and Michael Warren (Hill Street Blues), who (like Tepper) was also a former collegiate basketball player.

It was filmed on the campus of the University of Oregon and other locations in Eugene, Oregon. The film is also notable for its then-controversial use of profanity, its depictions of sex and drug use, and for several scenes of male frontal nudity, including a locker-room shower scene, and the mental breakdown scene in which Gabriel (Margotta) is shown frontally nude, which led to an attempt by the censor to give the film an X rating.

The title comes from the poem "I Know A Man"[2] by Robert Creeley, which a character recites in the opening scene. It also serves as a cryptic reference to basketball, the movie's dominant milieu.


Hector Bloom is a laconic, libidinous college basketball star distracted by obligations and current events: the misadventures of his volatile roommate Gabriel, a potential pro career, the draft, campus unrest, and a turbulent affair with Olive, the wife of Richard, a professor and friend. His coach pays special attention to him, given Hector's abilities, but is unsure how to get him to focus and fulfill his potential. Hector's attitude, and his coach's frustration, is exemplified by a meeting before an important late-season game where the coach instructs him to "play it straight out there tonight, I don't want any fooling around at all"; to his coach's exasperation, Hector replies "Why not?"

Gabriel, a vulgar borderline psychotic, is far more troubled and committed to rebellion than Hector. He abuses drugs, disrupts a basketball game with a guerrilla theatre stunt, goes crazy during an induction physical, ransacks his apartment, espouses anti-establishment views about everything, and drifts aimlessly.

During a confrontation in a grocery store, Olive informs Hector that she is pregnant, implies he is not the father, and tells him their affair is over. Hector replies that he has "the clap", which infuriates Olive; she warns him that if he follows her, she will call the police.

That night, Hector leads his team to a huge victory; the fans storm the court, and triumphantly carry Hector off. At the same time, Gabriel breaks into Olive's house while she is bathing and physically assaults her. She fends off his attack, eventually running outdoors with Gabriel in pursuit just as Hector drives up. Gabriel, aware of Hector's trysts with Olive, screams at Hector that Olive prefers him over Richard, then runs off when Richard arrives home. Hector confronts Richard, telling him Olive should be with him; a shaken Olive asserts her independence, saying, "I'm not going with anybody, anywhere". Richard warns Hector "I'll kill you", then escorts Olive back into their house.

The next morning Gabriel, completely naked, runs into a biology lab and frees snakes, an iguana, mice and other vermin. Eventually campus police and white-coated attendants arrive with a straitjacket; Gabriel rebuffs them, insisting he is both "right and sane". They cloak him in a blanket and lead him into a padded van. Hector, seeing this, jumps onto the back of the van, demanding they open it. As the van pulls away, he jumps off, yelling to Gabriel that his mother called.



Filming took place in Eugene, Oregon.[3]

Critical receptionEdit

The film was entered into the 1971 Cannes Film Festival,[4] where it encountered a stormy reception; The New York Times reported that the movie "set off the most violently negative reaction from an audience at the festival this year. As the lights came up, the people hooted, screamed and whistled. Some got to their feet and waved indignant fists toward where Nicholson and his two actors, William Tepper and Michael Margotta, were seated."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four and called it "a disorganized but occasionally brilliant movie," with the performances being "the best thing in the movie. Nicholson himself is a tremendously interesting screen actor, and he directs his actors to achieve a kind of intimacy and intensity that is genuinely rare. But if Nicholson is good on the nuances, he's weak on the overall direction of his film. It doesn't hang together for us as a unified piece of work."[6] Vincent Canby of The New York Times declared, "It is not a great film, but it is an often intelligent one, and it is so much better than all of the rest of the campus junk Hollywood has manufactured that it can be indulged in its sentimental conventions."[7] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film his highest grade of four stars and wrote, "The dialog and acting are of the highest calibre ... The script respects each character, and the actors deliver fresh, unpredictable performances."[8] Variety called it "an uneven film" with "a bombastic, racy, pellmell style touching on all that has gone before, but with a modern ring which may appeal to youthful audiences."[9] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote of Nicholson's direction, "I think it is an unusually impressive debut. What is least surprising, I suppose, is that Nicholson works extremely well with his actors and has evoked several performances of outstanding quality."[10] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post commented, "While it's not an untalented picture, it is an exasperating and finally insufferable one, because none of its potentially interesting themes or characters ever takes hold ... For short periods of time it's possible to persuade yourself that something interesting might come of the athletic theme or the romantic theme or the political theme, but the movie never takes you up on it."[11]

Pauline Kael, looking back on the film in 1978, called it "perhaps the most ambitious, chaotic, and daring of the counterculture films—it had a deranged, dissociated vitality. Though Nicholson couldn't pace it or bring it together, he did seem to have control of the actors, and you knew that nobody was just trying to charm you—they were all trying to get something new on the screen."[12] A later assessment from Steven H. Scheuer found the film "utterly downbeat, and unfortunately dated".[13] Leonard Maltin's home video guide awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four and found the film "confusing", and while he also praised the acting performances, he found that the film "loses itself in its attempt to cover all the bases".[14]

The film currently holds a score of 62% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 reviews.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d "William Tepper Dies: Star Of Jack Nicholson's 'Drive, He Said' Was 69". Deadline Hollywood. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
  2. ^ "I Know A Man". Poetry Foundation. Poetry (magazine). 2016-03-01. Retrieved 2019-08-14.
  3. ^ "Filmed in Oregon 1908-2015" (PDF). Oregon Film Council. Oregon State Library. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Drive, He Said". Retrieved 2009-04-12.
  5. ^ Grenier, Cynthia (May 25, 1971). [1] The New York Times. 44.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger Drive, He Said., Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 14, 1971). "Screen: Nicholson's 'Drive, He Said'". The New York Times. 49.
  8. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 26, 1971). "Drive, He Said". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 9.
  9. ^ "Film Reviews: Drive, He Said". Variety. June 2, 1971. 15.
  10. ^ Champlin, Charles (June 30, 1971). "Nicholson Makes Director Debut". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  11. ^ Arnold, Gary (September 28, 1971). "Drive, He Said". The Washington Post. B6.
  12. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 11, 1978). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 75.
  13. ^ Scheuer, Steven H. (1990) Movies on TV and Videocassette, Bamtam Books, New York. p. 294.
  14. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1991) Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1992, Signet, New York. p. 325.
  15. ^ "Drive, He Said". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 12, 2019.

External linksEdit