HomeEntertainmentMonte Hellman, Legendary Director of Westerns, Dies at 91

Monte Hellman, Legendary Director of Westerns, Dies at 91

by Jon D. B.
Photo credit should read MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images

Legendary Western director and producer, Monte Hellman, leaves behind a remarkable legacy. He died on April 20 at the age of 91.

Lauded as Hollywood’s “maverick” Wester director, the mastermind behind “Road to Nowhere, “Two-Lane Blacktop,” and “The Shooting” has died Tuesday. Hellman passed at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Desert, California after suffering a fall in his home April19.

The 91-year-old icon, who lived an incredible life, established a huge following as a cult and Western director. Variety Among his biggest fans? Quentin Tarantino. Hellman was known for his gritty, visceral yet poetic storytelling, something Tarantino would inherit from the man himself.

Monte Hellman got his start as an editor’s apprentice at ABC, Variety notes upon announcing his death. From there, he would make his directing debut with “Beast From Haunted Cave” in 1959. Legendary producer Roger Corman backed Hellman’s first film and took the young director under his wing. Other directing greats, such as Ron Howard, would learn the trade congruently from Corman, as well.

In the 1960s, Hellman would work with a budding Jack Nicholson on “Back Door to Hell” and “Flight to Fury”. The duo shot each film back-to-back in the Philippines, cementing them as longtime cohorts. As a result, the two would come together again for two Westerns: “Ride the Whirlwind” and one of Hellman’s best: “The Shooting.”

The Incomparable Career of Monte Hellman

Among Monte Hellman’s other notable films are 1974’s “The Cockfighter” and 1978’s “China 9, Liberty 37” – each toting Western icon Warren Oates as their lead.

One of his finest distinctions, however, will forever remain “Two-Lane Blacktop”. The 1971 film, which starred James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, wasn’t a hit in its time. Later on, though “Blacktop” would garner a cult following – one that spread all the way up to the National Film Registry. The classic is regarded now as “one of the greatest road movies ever made,” Variety cites of Film Talk. As such, it rests forever in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Among many more films, Monte Hellman would eventually serve as executive producer for his biggest fan, Quentin Tarantino. The film? 1992’s masterpiece, “Reservoir Dogs.”

Hellman was also a highly-respected directing teacher at California Institute of the Arts. Surviving him are his daughter, Melissa, his son, Jared, and his brother: Herb Himmelbaum.

Rest in peace – and thank you for a lifetime of remarkable work, Mr. Hellman.