RIP Director Monte Hellman…From Jack Nicholson’s First Western To James Taylor’s Only Film “Two Lane Blacktop”…An Appreciation…

RIP Monte Hellman…

Sad news for film lovers…

Acclaimed Film Director Monte Hellman died Tuesday. He was 91.

His death at Eisenhower Health hospital in Palm Desert followed a fall at his home, his daughter, producer Melissa Hellman, told The New York Times.

Here’s a look at some of his great films, including this terrific double bill out on Criterion:

In 1966, Hellman directed The Shooting, a Western starring Warren Oates, Millie Perkins and Jack Nicholson, and was produced by Nicholson and Hellman. 

James Taylor’s ONLY Movie Role!

cult classics

My first Monte Hellman film was the discovery of a neglected classic.

There is nothing more exhilarating for a movie buff than finding an obscure masterpiece – especially when it stars James Taylor AND the late Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson!

Dennis Wilson and James Taylor movie

Time to celebrate one of the greatest films of a lost era….this one line sums up the entire film:

“Make it three yards motherfucker, and we’ll have an automobile race!”


Here is the plot: “The Driver” and “The Mechanic” are two car freaks driving a 1955 Chevy throughout the southwestern U.S. looking for other cars to race.

Here is the trailer:

“Two Lane Blacktop” was directed by Monte Hellman, one of that era’s great young independent film makers, who shared a unique vision of America at a time of great civil unrest. What makes this film unique is that, while the stars are indeed “hippies”, they also share an “All-American” passion for cars…

cult hippie films

James Taylor and Dennis Wilson literally talk about NOTHING but cars…it’s hilarious how much they love their car and how much they love to race, especially when they can take local drivers for big bucks….as James Taylor says in the film when challenged:

“Make it three yards motherfucker, and we’ll have an automobile race!”


Early on, they pick up “The Girl”, who exemplifies the newly modern young woman, carefree and hitchhiking across America, a modern woman breaking free from the chains of the past…

james taylor movie

The Legendary Warren Oates!

At a gas station, the trio meet “G.T.O”., a middle-aged man who fabricates stories about his exploits. Warren Oates, one of Hollywood’s greatest and most under-appreciated Actors, plays GTO to the hilt!

character actor warren oates

They decide to have a race to Washington, D.C., where the winner will get the loser’s car. The journey is full of situations that showcase the way America was changing, the anti-hippie sentiment in the country, and the “about to explode” power of the youth movement….

The Mechanic: “You’d have yourself a real street-sweeper here if you put a little work into it.”
G.T.O.: “I go fast enough.”
The Driver: “You can never go fast enough.”

two lane blacktop warren oates

Warren Oates is hilarious as GTO – chewing every single scene he’s in – it’s a master class of Acting. His character GTO begins as a straightforward middle-aged guy…but every time he talks to someone new, he rattles off completely different stories of his life…and after you realize how his entire story is a lie…you realize, in the best way, that he is crazy!

best warren oates movies

G.T.O.: “If I’m not grounded pretty soon, I’m gonna go into orbit!”

His character gives the film a real “weight”, and Director Hellman helps with some stunning imagery…

Monte Hellman movies
esquire two lane blacktop

Esquire magazine declared the film its movie of the year for 1971, and even published the entire screenplay in its April 1971 issue, but that seems to have backfired, and the film bombed upon release.

Two Lane Blacktop James Taylor music

The film has since become a counterculture classic, and thanks to home video, there is now a brilliant Criterion Collection that includes a ton of great extras…

Cannonball Run Burt Reynolds

The “Cannonball Run” Effect!

Yes, “Cannonball Run” was inspired by “Two Lane Blacktop!” According to wikipedia, Brock Yates, organizer of the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (better known as the Cannonball Run) cites Two-Lane Blacktop as one source of inspiration for the creation of the race, and commented on it in his Car and Driver column announcing the first Cannonball!

Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton, Hitchhiker!

Legendary character Actor Harry Dean Stanton, a regular in many of Hellman’s films as well as the classic “Alien”, has a great role as a hitchhiker picked up by GTO….but things go quickly astray after Stanton lets his hand “drift” over onto Oates’s knee…:

G.T.O.: “I’m not into that!”
Stanton: “I just thought it might relax you while you drive.”
G.T.O.: “This is competition, man. I’ve got no time.”

Two Lane Blacktop gay scene

It’s a funny yet oddly touching scene as Stanton makes a play for Warren Oates, who says simply:

“This is competition, man. I’ve got no time.”

James Taylor movie role

This is the only time that James Taylor ever acted in a movie, apart from cameos as himself. On the Criterion edition, there is an interview with Taylor. Strangely, as of the 2007 Criterion DVD release, James Taylor had never seen the film. He says he would now like to see it!

In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

laurie bird

This was Laurie Bird’s film debut. The young Actress holds the screen well against her male co-stars, especially since she brings most of the personality into the film…capturing the restlessness and free spirit of her character…


Sadly, she would only star in two more films before taking her own life in New York in 1979. She’s not the only star of the film who would die a sad, unnecessary death.

Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue

Pacific Ocean Blue!

Dennis Wilson was much more than the drummer in his brother’s band. Aside from starring in “Two Lane Blacktop”, he released a commercial and critical solo album in 1977 called “Pacific Ocean Blue”…

The album is sad, honest and full of regret, a beautiful and haunting piece of work that is still available today.

Equally sad is Dennis Wilson’s death in 1983 from drowning…it’s always been frustrating to me that writers make a joke about a Beach Boy drowning. He was a great talent who deserved more respect than that.


Legendary Stunt Man / Director Gary Kent was involved in the early Nicholson films and wrote all about that experience in his riveting memoir:

His incredible life in film is a fascinating read – win fact, he also had a documentary made all about his life:

You can see more of his story and an in-depth look at his memoir – and encounter with Charles Manson – by clicking on my story here:

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RIP to a terrific Director, Monte Hellman…


Categories: 70's Cinema, 70's Music, Action Films, Art, Books / Media, Cult Movies, Film Fight Club, Film Noir, Great Films, Hollywood, Memoirs, Movies, Obscure Movies, Pop Culture, Talent/Celebrities

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10 replies

  1. I never knew James Taylor starred in a movie. And I never knew this movie inspired Cannonball Run. Wow! It’s always sad to read of deaths that happen way too young. Not Monte of course, but the actors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very interesting and informative post, John. I really enjoyed it. 91 is a good long life but it is always sad when someone passes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sad news about Monte, but he did live a good long life.
    I have actually seen all of those films, and agree that Oates was outstanding as GTO. Then again, he usually was outstanding in every role, no matter how small. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Lisa’s Week In Review: 4/19/21 — 4/25/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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