I’m as much of a sucker for the Warren Oates mythology as the next guy. I just rented Race With The Devil for $3.99, and I would have never gone there were it not for the prospect of Oates’ supporting performance. Last month I bought a Bluray of John Milius‘s Dillinger because I’d never seen it and felt it was time to finally savor Oates’ gangster swagger. But man, what a glum, soiled attitude he had — always a couple of days away from the last shower, resentful, too grubby and cigar-smelly to get laid except in Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, small-minded, always bitching or seething.
And yet…this is the thing that anchors many of Oates’ performances…he always suggested a kind of decency and even tenderness under the crust.
I understand the argument that The Wild Bunch isn’t “a Warren Oates film.” But when I think of that 1969 groundbreaker I always go right to the screaming, mortally-wounded Oates firing that machine gun at the very end. He all but owns that Sam Peckinpah film, and yet the geniuses at the Film Society of Lincoln Center have decided not to include Bunch in “Warren Oates: Hired Hand,” a retrospective that runs from 7.1 through 7.7.
I can imagine standing in the lobby and casually eyeballing the indifferently dressed, over-50 film bums that will attend. If LexG lived in the New York area (what a thought!) he’d be among them.
The films include Private Property (’60 — Oates’ first noteworthy feature), 92 in the Shade (’75 — minor cards), Badlands (’73 — Oates gets plugged by Martin Sheen), Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (’74), William Friedkin‘s The Brinks Job (’78 — this is a 100% Boston-ethnic ensemble film led by Peter Falk and the FSLC guys are programming Brinks and not Bunch?), Monte Hellman‘s Cockfighter (’74 — never saw it but I have a sneaking suspicion that before the day is out Steven Gaydos will tell us all how under-valued it is), Dillinger (’73), The Hired Hand (71 — respectable), Kid Blue (’73 — minor throwaway), Race With The Devil (’75), The Shooting (’66), Stripes (’81), Two Lane Blacktop (’71).
From Michael Atkinson‘s 6.29 Village Voice appreciation:
“Every Oates performance is a launch of doubt; every line he speaks rings as something he might regret saying. An Oates man is almost always a self-deluding loser trapped on the edge of society, fearing the violence that will surely come and trying to talk his way back up the road. No one has ever been as good at the unease that results when slow-wittedness and anxiety collide — you believe his hesitations and dread as you do with few other actors. He embodied the ‘real’ white America of the ‘Nam-Nixon era, a man with a sweaty hairline and bad ideas, lying to you so he can lie to himself. It’s hard to think of another bygone movie icon who’d fit less comfortably into today’s digital-facelifted, 3-D-printed-people movie landscape.”