Monte Hellman was a hero to movie geeks everywhere. His movies defies expectations of commercial success, and they often focused on inner struggles of their protagonists. Two-Lane Blacktop is the movie most people associate his name with, and it is a milestone in 1970's existential cinema. The film is also widely known for using musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in its cast.

Hellman got his start as so many others did: Working for Roger Corman. His first feature was the 1959 monster movie quickie, The Beast from the Haunted Cave. Like most movies associated with Corman, this one is more interesting than most of the low budget horror from the era. Hellman's best work was ahead, but The Beast from the Haunted Cave remains an interesting debut.

Monte Hellman had good working relationships with two of the best actors of the 60's and 70's: Jack Nicholson and Warren Oates. Nicholson starred in the next four Hellman movies, the best of which is probably a western called The Shooting.

After that came Two-lane Blacktop, which should have elevated Monte Hellman to the ranks of directors like Scorsese and Coppola. Hellman was probably too arty, too obtuse. His movies often had long sequences with no dialogue.

Hellman returned to work for Corman with my favorite of his movies, Cockfighter. Based on the Charles Willeford novel, Cockfighter was an attempt to expose the horrors of bloody gambling on roosters fighting to the death in the American south. Warren Oates gives a bravura performance and while he narrates, his character does not utter a word until the finale. Corman obviously hoped for a controversial moneymaker in Cockfighter, but like The Intruder, it was a financial failure. Even while both films got strong reviews.

Monte Hellman's career took a strange turn when he wrote and directed the direct-to-video slasher sequel, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! I guess he needed the money.

The most interesting credit in Hellman's later career is Executive Producer on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.

Hellman did editing work, and he shot second unit footage on a lot of movies, including action sequences in Robocop, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Monkees' Head. He also taught film at California Institute of the Arts.

Monte Hellman's films weren't moneymakers, and I wish he had a more prolific career. He made a mark on the landscape of cinema, even if a lot of people don't know his name or his work.

Written by Mark Sieber

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry