Barry Newman in Vanishing Point

Devastating ending

Barry Newman in Vanishing Point


The actor who portrayed a rebellious Vietnam vet driving a supercharged Dodge Challenger across the American West in the 1971 movie The Vanishing Point has died at 92.

The hot pursuit by cops gives Steve McQueen’s car chase in Bullitt a run for its money, and in my book is the best in the business.

The movie made a box office profit of $11-million and became a cult classic that introduced audiences to the counter-culture drug and sex-free seventies.


Through flashbacks we learn that the driver, Kowalski, is a Medal of Honor Vietnam War veteran, former race car driver, and ex-cop who was fired after preventing the rape of a young woman by his superior.

He’s on mission to deliver the muscle car to California and arrive at a specific time. As he races the clock and the cops, Kowalski meets bizarre characters along the way, most memorably a beautiful woman who rides a motorcycle naked in the desert.

Barry Newman in vanishing point


As he drives, Kowalski listens to a blind disc jockey named Super Soul, played by Cleavon Little, on radio station KOW broadcasting from Goldfield, Nevada. The DJ is monitoring the hot pursuit on police frequency radio and keeps Kowalski one jump ahead of the cops, dubbing him “the last American hero.”

Super Soul’s listeners get caught up in the drama and it doesn’t take long for the news media to tune in and follow the unfolding car chase.

Supporters gather at the KOW radio station to cheer on “the last American hero.”

Barry Newman in Vanishing Point
Cleavon Little as Super Soul

It all comes down to Sunday morning when the California highway patrol set up a roadblock with two bulldozers in the next town Kowalski will be passing through.

A crowd gathers, many with cameras, as Kowalski approaches at high speed.

Barry Newman in Vanishing Point

He sees the roadblock, and the expression on his face is chillingly fatalistic. He doesn’t slow down. A smile comes across his face. He crashes into the bulldozers at full speed. The car explodes.

As firemen put out the flames, the crowd slowly disperses. To me, that is one of the most devastating endings in movie history. 


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One thought on “Devastating ending

  1. I remember the movie well, had a car chase right up there with Bullit. I think most of us guys went to see it because of the naked chic on the bike. The guy was a good actor.