The strange and sometimes pathetic world of barnstorming, hustling street-racing is explored with feeling by director-editor Monte Hellman in Two-Lane Blacktop. The production, shot on cross-country locations, shapes up as an excellent combination of in-depth contemporary story-telling and personality casting.
Will Corry’s story, scripted by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Corry, establishes James Taylor as a modern dropout, living on winnings from impromptu pavement racing challenges. Dennis Wilson is his expert mechanic. En route to nowhere in particular, they are latched onto by Laurie Bird.
The strong and compelling plot fibre is supplied by the writing, direction and performing of Warren Oates’ role. He’s an older man, a failure in some Establishment profession, now roaming the country in a souped-up Detroit vehicle. When Oates challenges Taylor to a cross-country run, with vehicle ownership the payoff, the story becomes a superior interplay of basic human nature.
Much of the story’s import is on Oates’ back, and he carries it like a champion in an outstanding performance.