Author’s Note: Yeah, we know you’ve seen them before and know them well. But we’ve got some movie “Easter Eggs” in these reviews. Thanks for revisiting the classics with the B&S gang, where we coddle the obscure and the forgotten films of the VHS, UHF, and Drive-In yesteryears.
This Universal Studios tale in which the bikes of Easy Rider meet the Dodge Challenger of Vanishing Point was on the short-list for our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” tribute (ran Sunday, July 19 to Saturday, July 25) of films as result of ex-Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson starring as the “Mechanic” and ‘70s soft rocker James Taylor as the “Driver.”
But wait! There’s those celluloid bonus points, since this is directed by Monte Hellman, who made his directorial debut with Roger Corman’s Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)—a relationship that lasted for several films over fifteen years. And Hellman gave us Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (another “unwanted sequel,” ala Phil Pitzer’s Easy Rider: The Ride Back, that’s actually better than you think, as result of the Hellman touch), and he executive-produced Reservoir Dogs. So, courtesy of that Corman lineage, Hellman’s not giving you a typical Universal picture. This is an A.I.P-styled romp that’s not for the mainstream cinema folks.
As with Wyatt and Billy’s biker travels, Two-Lane Blacktop is an existential road trip into metaphorical ambiguity—only from inside the cockpit of a Black 1955 Chevy 150. Unlike most major studio buddy-road adventures, this one’s void of exposition to the point of silence: the Chevy’s passengers are perfunctory to the story, operating more like “parts” to the car than actual people.
As the stoic duo travels across country entering impromptu and legalized dragstrip races, they pick up the hitchhiking “Girl” (Laurie Bird, who became Hellman’s girlfriend), meet a homosexual hitchhiker (Harry Dean Stanton, later of Alien and Repo Man), and a New Mexico to Washington D.C. “pink slip” challenge is made by “GTO” (Warren Oates), an insecure braggart who discover a vicarious purpose through the freedom-lives of the Chevy’s “internal parts.”
Regardless of its rock-star casting, neither Wilson nor Taylor provide music to the film and no Easy Rider-styled soundtrack was ever released. The film does, however, features songs by the Doors, Arlo Guthrie, and Kris Kristofferson. Lori Bird, in a James Dean-tragic life, only made three films: two with Hellman, the other being Roger Corman’s Cockfighter (1974; also with Warren Oates), and in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977; as the girlfriend to Paul Simon’s character). Coming to live with Simon’s musical partner, Art Garfunkel, she committing suicide-by-pills in his apartment at the age of 26.
There’s no online streams, but Blus and DVDs (co-issued by Universal through Criterion Collection and Anchor Bay) and used VHS-tapes are to be found on Amazon.
My buddy Eric, as with Easy Rider, takes me to task with this movie as well: “Duke, your idea of “classics” sucks ass,” he tells me. According to him—a car nut, mind you—”nothing happens.” “It’s like watching a stoner version of Seinsuck.” (Sorry, Sam!)
Friends and film, huh? It’s not so bad: chicks and film is worse.
UPDATE: Out in the social media ethers, reader Jake Garrett schooled us on this fun car flick fact: The ’55 Chevy in Two-Lane Blacktop is the same car as Bob Falfa’s in American Graffiti. Did you know that? We didn’t. Hey, we’re big enough to admit that we don’t know all of the film trivia out there. Thanks, Jake!