Wednesday, July 2, 2014

541. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Monte Hellman
Written By: Will Corry, Rudy Wurlitzer
Main Cast: James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird
Click here to view the trailer


I'm back baby!
                -Frank Costanza

Yep, I'm back in THE BOOK and it felt pretty good tonight to retire to my television room, leaving my wife to her "Pretty Little Liars" and "True Blood" watching and get back to business. Lets not make a fuss about it though. As I normally say when I return from break, don't expect great reviews and don't expect a record breaking pace. I'm going to try for two to three movies per week to start - I think that's a reasonable goal. Anyway..."Two-Lane Blacktop"...

Think "Easy Rider, but with cars...and better" and you'll pretty much have the gist of this one. James Taylor plays the nameless main character referred to only as "The Driver" in the credits. The driving in question is done in a Chevrolet 150 (I had to look that up to get it just right. I am by no means a "car guy"), highly modified by "The Mechanic" (Wilson). The pair basically live in the thing, taking it around to various local races and laying down upwards of $300 on the line to the winning engine. They win some, they lose some, but they get by and it's the lifestyle their used to - the only one they really know. After a while, the two pick up a female hitchhiker (Bird) and make it a trip, tailing a G.T.O. across the country. The driver of the G.T.O. (Oates) spots them and eventually confronts them during a gasoline and coca-cola stop. The two start revving their proverbial engines at one another and decide to have a grand race, starting in New Mexico and to end in Washington D.C. The stakes of this race, however, will not be "bread", but instead will be FOR PINKS! Otherwise known as pink slips a.k.a. the winner gets the losers car. They stuff their pinks into an envelope, mail them to D.C., with the winner being able to claim them both when they get there. Along the way, The Driver and The Mechanic make sure they gets no advantages over the G.T.O., even so far as stopping to help him fix a carburetor problem - even paying for the part! Eventually the girl is traded between the driver of the Chrysler and the driver of the G.T.O., as we wander down a road of aimlessness.


I feel like I have a higher tolerance toward movies when I first come back to them. I liked this, but am struggling to come up with a reason why and I keep wondering if I'd have still liked it if it hadn't been my first movie back (because I was really excited to jump back in). Of course, this really wasn't my first movie back, as I watched a handful of films on vacation and just reviewed "Match Point" the other day, so who knows. Anyway, yeah, I liked this one and again, I'm struggling to tell you why. I honestly think that ever since I watched "Woodstock" my whole perception of the 60s and 70s has changed and I really have a high appreciation for anything to come out of that era. I have a real "born to late" attitude when I reflect on the musicians, movie stars and famous figures who were doing their thing back then and thus, when it comes to 70s stuff, I'm a sucker. Granted, I hated "Easy Rider", but that felt like an acid trip whereas this felt more like an actual movie with an intended plot and somewhat fleshed out characters. Why in the world Hellman hired musicians to play his two main leads is beyond me; maybe they were cheap or maybe it was just the cool, 70s thing to do - stick a few musicians in your picture, man. I find that as I watch more movies from that decade, I realize that my appreciation for modern movies devalues just a little more with each one. I hate to sound like that old geezer who won't stop harping about candy & sodas for a nickel, but you realize that they're never going to make them like this, ever again. These movies had a tarnished quality that today's Hollywood  wouldn't stand for. The stars weren't gorgeous, the plots weren't perfect and the whole thing was as if it was directed by a spliff wielding hippie - but it was all so good and they really did know what they were doing. Ten years ago (maybe even twenty now) you could venture to independent cinema to find traces of old 70s style movie making, complete with uniqueness, but even today's indie gems are too polished for their own good.

Anyway, this is a total road movie and one that really doesn't end. Are we to assume that the Chrysler wins the race after listening to Warren Oates' story to the servicemen about winning the G.T.O. in a cross country race? I mean, I guess, but who knows? I actually really hated that they didn't just finish the story, but it looked like a case of not enough budget or time to continue shooting and just having to wrap it all up with the film burning and leaving us to guess on the fates of these characters. Surprisingly the musicians actually worked perfectly in their roles. James Taylor was a freaking zombie, but you get the feeling that that was a pretty dead on interpretation of someone from that era, doing what he was doing. I also really dug Wilson and you got the sense that Laurie Bird was just improvising everything she did. Warren Oates was gold too and clearly the true actor of the group. This made me want to see more of his work. It even kind of makes me want to watch "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" all over again and see if I short changed it. So good acting all around, good plot (despite unfinished and aimless) and that general nostalgic, time capsule feel make this one an easy thumbs up and a nice one to come back to.

RATING: 7.5/10  I can't go whole hog or anything, but this one could certainly see a "Ten Worth Mentioning" spot or maybe more, depending on how well it sticks with me.


July 2, 2014  1:36am


  1. I suppose I should try and make the effort to make a comment.. but this is one of those that i really didn't feel all that much either way about.
    I guess i was never going to be in synch with two rather over testosteroned guys doing mating displays using cars rather than simply displaying their genitals to each other (and the female)
    I guess with all the things it had going against it for me, to end up being ... (whats that word you use? Meah?) for me sort of says it worked to some extent..
    Move on...

    1. Yes, "meh". I thought it better than "meh", but can understand why you would classify it as such. Thanks, as always, for the comments!


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