25 April 2003 | Infofreak
A masterpiece from the criminally underrated Monte Hellman. One of the greatest road movies ever made.
As an admirer of Monte Hellman's superb 1960s westerns 'Ride In The Whirlwind' and 'The Shooting' I had been dying to see 'Two-Lane Blacktop' for many years as most people who have seen it regard it as Hellman's best movie, and one of the greatest road movies ever made. Impossible to find on video, and rarely (if ever) screened on TV here in Australia, I finally managed to get hold of it on DVD, and boy, does this movie REALLY live up to its reputation! I think if it had have been more easy to see over the last thirty years it would be spoken of in the same breath as 'Easy Rider'. Both movies are landmarks. Existential road movies that really capture a lost slice of Americana. Hellman, like so many other talented directors, got his first breaks from b-grade legend Roger Corman. But Hellman's unwillingness to compromise, and a lot of bad luck, sadly meant that he never crossed over into the mainstream like other Corman proteges like Coppola and Demme. Too bad, because 'The Shooting' and 'Two-Lane Blacktop' showed he had talent and originality to burn. Both movies feature the legendary character actor Warren Oates ('The Wild Bunch', 'Dillinger', 'Race With The Devil', 'Drum', 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia'), and Oates fans MUST see this movie as his performance is simply superb. Oates plays G.T.O. a drifter and dreamer who challenges two young revheads (played by James Taylor and The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson) to a cross country car race. The winner gets the other drivers pink slip and (possibly) the affections of "The Girl", played by the late Laurie Bird (who only made two movies after this one and who tragically suicided in her mid twenties). Taylor, Wilson and Bird all give low key, almost non-performances. None were actors before they filmed this, but their minimalistic styles suit the material wonderfully. By contrast Oates is just dynamite and dominates every scene he appears in. I'd say this, and Peckinpah's cult classic 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia', are his two most impressive performances. It's worth watching this movie just to see Oates, but there's a lot more going for it. It is however an acquired taste, and if you aren't a fan of 1970s movies you may find it hard going. Please persevere, it's really worth it! Also keep an eye out for Harry Dean Stanton's unforgettable cameo as a lonely hitchhiker. Stanton had previously worked with Hellman in 'Ride In The Whirlwind' alongside Jack Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell, and would go on to appear with Oates and Laurie Bird in Hellman's next movie, the controversial 'Cockfighter', another difficult one to get hold of (until now). 'Two-Lane Blactop' is one of the best movies I've ever seen, and I can't recommend it highly enough! An American classic. It's pure magic!