Blog post from May 2009.
Today I’ve been watching movies. Lots of them. I’m preoccupied with the performances of a fair amount of character actors, but few have the undisputable crumpled cool of Warren Oates. Given that he passed away in his 50s in the early ’80s, his potential to become the aged oddball of choice for the next breed of indie directors was never fulfilled. There’s household names that get the cool guy namecheck more often, and there are others (Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton) that trod a similar path of cult status versatility, but while Brad’s ‘Wise Blood’ preacher attire is sharp, Oates edges him in terms of both style and acting skills.
In the ’70s, Warren was the man.
Currently everything’s clean, taped seamed and Ivy in influence, which goes against the Oates look, but it’s a timeless one – on seeing Tom Waits on TV, he reputedly railed against him, complaining that, “That guy stole my act!” It’s hard to pin down his finest moment, but writing as a heretic who, despite being a big Monte Hellman fan and Warren’s fantastic performance and look in the film, isn’t a massive ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ disciple, I’ve been drawn towards three key Oates performances. He isn’t the highlight of ‘The Wild Bunch’ either – that’ll be William Holden.
I would, instead, point attention towards his sublime turn in Hellman’s 1974 career-high ‘Cockfighter’ – a classic movie, despite the mega un-PC fight scenes, where he appears alongside Mr Dean-Stanton. Obviously it isn’t to all tastes, but seeing as the feathers ruffled during rigged but real fights have long since settled, it deserves a DVD re-release, after the excellent Anchor Bay version was deleted.
Check this Monte Hellman feature out for more background on a versatile director deserving of a higher profile.
And by embedding this, I’m not condoning the barbaric practise the film depicts.
He’s reunited with Harry again for the weird fishing melodrama ’92 In The Shade’ where he goes head-to-head with Peter Fonda over fishing guide jobs and who can look the flyest in a short-sleeve patterned shirt. The screentime Oates shares with legendary supporting go-to man Joe Spinell are alone worth your time. If you can find this lost gem, that is.
Far easier to obtain, and the best of the trio, ‘Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia’ is something you should bring into your life if you haven’t done so already. Nihilistic, relentlessly grim and rewatchable, Warren rules this film. Recently I was debating whether a sand coloured chino would suit my habit of sitting on the floor between train carriages to prevent being in contact with fellow idiot passengers, but here, the shade of suit Oates wears might be perfect for the hot weather, but it’s not so versatile for the dirty art of couriering a prized noggin back to a vengeful overprotective dad. Still, he looks cool in that suit. In fact, he tops McQueen in another Peckinpah classic, ‘The Getaway’ for the ultimate suit and gun combination. That’s quite an achievement.
Words don’t do Warren Oates justice. I’ll let a hastily compiled gallery of looks do the talking. Here’s a better Oates writeup than I can muster this dozy bank holiday weekend.
Bonus feature 1 – Warren Oates provides backing vocals on this Kris Kristofferson song.
Bonus feature 2 – In case you wanted to get your Lyle Gorch on and pretend to be Warren in ‘The Wild Bunch’, manning the Browning 30 Calibre, someone actually owns the original prop. Plenty of other great OG Wild Bunch weaponry and accessories here too.