For the cover of its April 1971 issue, Esquire chose for its cover image an unknown actress named Laurie Bird hitchhiking somewhere along Route 66. It was an unusual choice, but the magazine clearly felt it was getting a jump start on what would soon become a national discussion. “Read it first!,” the cover copy read. “Our nomination for the move of the year: Two-Lane Blacktop.” Inside, readers had a chance to read Rudy Wurlitzer’s screenplay in full. Soon they would have a chance to check out the movie, directed by Monte Hellman, who previously had only a handful of little-seen B-movies to his credit.
They didn’t. A product of the moment when studios scrambled to replicate the success of Easy Rider and make a connection with younger audiences, Two-Lane Blacktop didn’t find much of a viewership in spite of Esquire’s endorsement. But over the years its reputation has grown, as has the cult surrounding it, particularly once it became available on DVD in the late ’90s, and in 2012, joined the National Film Registry. The revival is well-deserved: There’s no other film quite like Two-Lane Blacktop, which uses the American backroads as the setting for a cross-country race that keeps veering in unexpected directions and pausing—a lot—to consider what kind of trip its characters are on and where it might be taking them. Bird, who plays The Girl, co-stars alongside James Taylor (yes, that James Taylor) and Dennis Wilson (yes, that Dennis Wilson) who play, respectively, The Driver and The Mechanic, a pair of gearheads in a heavily modified ’55 Chevy who take on the challenge of a middle-aged loudmouth driving a factory-fresh GTO (Warren Oates, whose character is known only as GTO).
Here’s the trailer, which seems to be advertising a much more visceral movie (and features moments from one scene that isn’t in the movie):
And here’s an oddity: The song “Don’t Cry, Driver” from the 2003 tribute album You Can Never Go Fast Enough. Performed by Will Oldham and Alan Licht, it combines “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” with virtually every line of dialogue Taylor delivers in as The Driver:
June 1: White Men Can’t Jump
June 8: Nashville
June 15: The Virgin Suicides