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.