Warren Oates, the gruff, everyman character actor best remembered for his film roles as the dim-witted but intimidating half of the Gorch Brothers in The Wild Bunch and the aptly named Sgt. Hulka in the Bill Murray Army comedy vehicle Stripes, would have been 85 years old today. Oates had succumbed to cancer back in 1982.
Oates seemed to be a chameleon in his roles, a merry-go-round of styles in a various litany of genres; he played famed real-life gangster John Dillinger (in Dillinger), did turns in Sam Peckinpah projects like the aforementioned The Wild Bunch and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, and did stints with other famed directors like Terrence Malick (Badlands), William Friedkin (The Brinks Job), and Steven Spielberg (the panned at the time, but semi-cult comedy in today’s climate 1941).
Two-Lane Blacktop, the cult classic film which stars the unlikely pairing of musicians James Taylor and the late reckless Beach Boy Dennis Wilson (in a non-musical setting) finally comes to Blu-ray today in a handsome deluxe edition via The Criterion Collection, which is loaded with extras and commentary by director Monte Hellman.
The film, which was originally released in 1971, came on the heels of other “road/youth” films at the time which were largely from the AIP (American International Pictures) Studios in the mid to late 1960s and showed young people in a more uninhibited light (bikers, juvenile delinquents, transient hippie types) than was standard fare that showcased people of that stripe in movies released by larger film companies. With the 1969 release of Easy Rider, which was distributed by Columbia, a major Hollywood studio, and to massive critical and financial success, suddenly there was an interest in these this type of genre picture, hence where Two-Lane Blacktop came in.