This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
The girl simply turns up one day and gets into the back seat of the 1955 Chevy. She doesn't seem to have a name, but then nobody else does, either. The driver and the mechanic drive away without even speaking to her, and that's how they come to be together. A little further down the road, they run into G.T.O., so called because that's the name of his machine, and they agree to conduct a cross-country race all the way to Washington. Winner gets the other car.
Monte Hellman's "Two-Lane Blacktop" is mostly about this race, which is an odd race in that nobody much seems to want to win. The driver and the mechanic have devoted their lives to racing and winning with their customized and rebuilt Chevy, and G.T.O. identifies intimately with his car, yet they keep stopping to help each other along the road, as if the road would be unbearably lonely if that other car weren't sometimes in view.
Their universe is one that's familiar in recent American films like "Bonnie and Clyde," "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces." It consists of the miscellaneous establishments thrown up along the sides of the road to support life: motels, gas stations, hamburger stands. The road itself has a real identity in "Two-Lane Blacktop," as if it were a place to live and not just a way to move. There may be homes and gardens hidden behind those interstate terraces, but for the four people in this movie -- the road, as the saying goes, is home.
Hellman is an American director whose work is much prized by the French, who have a knack for finding existential truths in movies we thought were Westerns. I haven't seen his earlier films ("Beast from Haunted Cave," "The Shooting," "Ride in the Whirlwind"), but this one is very personal. It seems to come from a single vision of the road, the race, and life; and, paradoxically, the characters need to be impersonal so they don't interfere with this vision.