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Snakes in Movies
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Snakes in Movies
Vanishing Point (1971)
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
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"It's the maximum trip... at maximum speed."
"Tighten your seat belt. You never had a trip like this before."
"Watch carefully because everything happens fast. The chase. The desert. The shack. The girl. The roadblock. The end."

This is a Car Movie. The car is as much the star as anyone. A man we know only as Kowalski, is paid to deliver cars by driving them as fast as possible. (It's a really dumb setup, but it works.) This time he's made a bet that he can drive a supercharged white 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours, with every cop around chasing after him. This is how the movie trailer describes Kowalski: "Background: medal of honor in Vietnam; former stock and bike racer; former cop, dishonorably discharged. Now he uses speed to get himself up. To get himself gone." He's in a hurry, but not so much that he doesn't have time to stop for a gay hitchhiker, an old snake collector, and a naked woman on a motorcycle. In the UK version, he even stops to smoke a joint and spend the night with a hitchhiker played by Charlotte Rampling. When any other cars or police vehicles get in his way, he runs them off the road. There are some spectacular crash scenes in this cult classic. Kowalski is guided by a blind DJ with a police scanner who makes him into a hero of limitless speed and open roads, two things which are coming to an end in America, along with loners like Kowalski who don't fit into the mainstream culture or the counter-culture. His self-destruction at the end is shocking as much for its lack of purpose and meaning as for its inevitability.

The Snake Scene

Chased by the police, Kowalski drives the Challenger off the highway into the desert. When he stops to fix a flat tire, he finds a coiled Mojave rattlesnake next to his car. And just then an old prospector walks up and tells him not to move. He nooses the rattlesnake then puts it in a wicker basket. Kowalski asks him what's in the basket and he says that he's got 6 rattlers, 2 diamondbacks, and now he's got one very precious diamondback, all of which he's going to trade for ", sugar, chewing tobacco, salt, flour and beans, lots of beans, son."

They drive to a group of Christian faith healers making music in the middle of some Joshua trees in the desert. The prospector hands the cult leader the basket full of snakes. He reaches in the basket and picks up a snake, sticking his tongue out snake-like. He says they don't need snakes anymore now that they have music, and he throws all the snakes out of the basket, shouting "free the vipers!" In a nice shot, we see a bunch of real live rattlesnakes come flying down into our faces. He leaves the snakes dangerously close to the group's followers, but they all just go on singing and dancing, oblivious to the snakes.

All of the snakes we see are live ones, including a Mohave Rattlesnake, Red-diamond Rattlesnakes and maybe some Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes. The actors actually hand live rattlesnakes, which is very rare in a movie, so I wonder if the snakes had their mouths sewn shut or their venom glands removed to make them less dangerous. The old prospector uses a wire noose to catch the rattlesnake. That's some old school rattlesnake catching. Maybe that was before snake tongs were invented. Throwing snakes out of a basket can be cruel but it did make for a nice shot. I'd like to know how they did it. They could have left the camera unattended and thrown the snakes at it, or maybe they used a large pane of glass to shoot through and to protect the camera operator.

Watch the rattlesnake catching scene on YouTube if it's still there.

There's also an inferior remake with a similar snake scene: Vanishing Point (1997).