Monday, June 1, 2009


The Essential Oates
Staff Writer

“Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974)

Nothing tops his performance as the tequila-fueled, Tijuana-based American piano player Bennie, out to complete a $10,000 contract assignment for a party of lowlifes and learning the consequences the hard way. But it’s the way he reacts to the ramifications of his greed which makes this poignant, heartbreaking performance his best.

“The Wild Bunch” (1969)

Warren Oates plays one of the Gorch Brothers in this fatalistic Western, controversial in its day for raising the bar on cinematic violence. Oates also had small roles in another Sam Peckinpah Western, “Ride the High Country” (1962), and in the director’s Civil War epic, “Major Dundee” (1965).

“Dillinger” (1973) Oates is well cast in the title role as the notorious bank robber. It’s too bad that the rest of this John Milius film did not rise to Oates’ level. However, this film cast Oates alongside Peckinpah regulars Ben Johnson and Harry Dean Stanton.

“Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971) Of the four films he made for cult director Monte Hellman, Oates shined brightest in this feature. Here, Oates overcomes slight material and inexperienced actors (including musician James Taylor).

“Kid Blue” (1973) Oates turned in a sensitive, shaded performance in this different kind of Western starring Dennis Hopper.

“Race With the Devil” (1975)
Oates and Peter Fonda are on the run from a town overrun by a Satanic cult. Not as fun as it sounds, but it features a rare Oates lead role.

“Stripes” (1981)
Oates played the cantankerous Sgt. Hulka, foil to Bill Murray’s John Winger in the 1981 hit comedy. During these last years of his life, Oates also landed character parts in Steven Spielberg’s rare cinematic misfire, “1941” (1979), “The Border” (1982) starring Jack Nicholson, and in the box-office hit “Blue Thunder” (released posthumously in 1983).

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