Two-Lane Blacktop on Blu-ray
This is an extract from a previous article on Monte Hellman.
It seems remarkable that a major studio like Universal stumped up the cash for what Monte Hellman and producer Michael Laughlin proposed: a road movie in which all the characters have generic names, in which the cars also share the billing as ‘characters’, and in which the proposed competition fizzles out almost as soon as it starts with the competitors effectively helping each other out along the way. Indeed the move from Darwinistic struggle and the survival of the fittest to a programme of cooperation might seem a little belated in 1971. Easy Rider had already dealt with the end of the Summer of Love though with US troops still very much in Vietnam the call for mutual aid was still vital in many minds.
Warren Oates plays ‘G.T.O’, the driver of a yellow ’32 Pard Roadster’ who challenges James Taylor (‘The Driver’) and Dennis Wilson (‘The Mechanic’) in their grey 55 Chevvy to a race across the US from Los Angeles to Washington DC. As the only trained actor, Oates is the perfect foil for the laconicism of the other leads and without him the whole film might have been as grey and serious as the car they drive. Oates’s car, by contrast, is a mixture of schoolboy dream and camp excess and his character is all bluster and pompousness. Along the way they are joined by Laurie Bird (‘The Girl’) and they embark on a trip which, because it is from West to East, deconstructs the impetus towards American myth. Indeed, it’s tempting to see the Chevvy as a demythicised version of Melville’s great white whale, its dull matt grey signifying the end of days rather than the promise of glorious beginnings; it’s a road trip in which ‘nothing’ happens, with the race itself soon becoming something of a red herring.