RIP, Monte Hellman.

Monte Hellman (Monte Jay Himmelman)
(July 12, 1929 – April 20, 2021)

When I was a kid, my gear-head cousin used to talk about this movie about a ’55 Chevy and a GTO racing cross-country for pinks. It was called Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and he thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was several years later before I finally saw it, but he was right — it’s about the coolest thing ever.

Monte Hellman directed that movie, and he has passed away at 91.

Hellman certainly had a weird career. He was one of the Roger Corman kids, who learned by doing, making Roger’s cheap movies. Of course, that’s probably the best way to learn anything. There were a few of those. He directed a couple of terrific Westerns with Jack Nicholson in 1966, Ride The Whirlwind and The Shooting. They’re called things like Acid Westerns, Revisionist Westerns and Weird Westerns. Call ’em what you want, but they’re just Westerns — different, sure, and very good.

Then came Two-Lane Blacktop. It absolutely nails the car culture — which is why folks like my cousin hold it in such high esteem — and contains one of the greatest film performances you’ll ever see, from Mr. Warren Oates. In the photo up top, there’s (L-R) Hellman, Warren Oates and James Taylor on location.

One of the picture’s final scenes was shot on near the North Carolina-Tennessee line. I pay homage every time I pass by.

There were other movies — some he directed (Cockfighter is incredible), others he worked on (often without credit) as a director/editor/fixer. I wish he’d made more movies because he sure knew what he was doing, and he put his stamp on everything he touched. And it was one helluva stamp.

2 Comments

Filed under 1971, Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Warren Oates

2 responses to “RIP, Monte Hellman.

  1. Walter

    Toby, Monte Hellman’s TWO-LANE BLACKTOP(filmed 1970, released 1971) brings back memories of that particular time and place. I get a kick out of this type of movie, because it gives me an opportunity to look back at a slice of Americana that is almost gone, but not quite. I know this part of the USA and its people very well. I enjoyed the fact that Hellman used so many non-actors in this movie. Yes, real people and places in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The country is still there, but you have to get off of the interstate system to see it.

    Part of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP was filmed at a place called Toad Suck, Arkansas, which is an Arkansas River crossing closest to the town of Conway, which is about 10 miles west of down town. At this site, there is a lock and dam maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers as well as the lovely Toad Suck Park. In 1970 the Toad Suck Ferry, connecting Faulkner and Perry counties was still in operation. The Ferry was replaced by a bridge that year. Just before it closed, Monte Hellman shot a scene on the ferry.

    In the late 1970’s and early ’80’s, my wife and I lived in Conway and we would drive out to Toad Suck. We would walk around and observe the river traffic of huge barges coming down from Oklahoma. It was a nice place to visit.

    Back in the day, I didn’t get to view TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, but I had read about it and it intrigued me. I read about the scene filmed on the Toad Suck Ferry. Years later I finally caught up with a pan/scan viewing on TV. The ferry scene wasn’t in the movie. Also, the scene isn’t in the DVD release either. So, I presume Hellman edited it out of his final cut, which started out as a three and a half-hour rough cut. I wonder if the Toad Suck Ferry scene exists anywhere? Who knows.

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    • So many movies that you hear or read about before seeing them can’t live up to the hype or their reputation. Hellman’s movies — the Nicholson Westerns, Two-Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter — were far more than I expected.

      Two-Lane Blacktop blew the back of my head off when I finally saw it on the late show, edited and pan & scan.

      Like

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