The news of Peter Fonda’s passing a couple weeks ago was a blow to the film industry. Peter, the son of legendary actor Henry Fonda, was a staple of the 1960s counter-cultural movement that led into the 70s. From his humble beginnings with the King of Exploitation, Roger Corman, Fonda became an international sensation with the 1969 hit Easy Rider, one of the most pivotal films in American cinema. His career spanned over 50 years and with everyrole, you see the light within him shine through that gave him such an infectious personality.
A very early role of Fonda’s came as support in the Warren Beatty led Lilith. Fonda plays an institutionalized patient who falls in love with another patient who has her eyes set on Beatty. The film, while melodramatic at times, shows Fonda’s versatility at a time when nobody quite knew who he was or what he would become in just a few years’ time.
THE WILD ANGELS (1966)
The Wild Angels was the film that sprung Fonda’s career as he played the hardnosed ‘Blues’, leader of the Hells Angels biker gang. Under the leadership of legendary producer/director Roger Corman, Fonda became a counter-culture icon as he roared about freedom and get loaded in this precursor to Easy Rider!
THE TRIP (1967)
The Trip was the second Corman film Fonda was a part of and, once again stapled himself as an icon for the 1960’s youth. The Trip introduced Dennis Hopper in a starring role and Jack Nicholson in a writing role, two of the three central figures in Easy Rider, along with Peter Fonda. This is not only one of the most interesting films of Fonda’s career, but one of the most interesting of the 1960s!
EASY RIDER (1969)
Easy Rider, one of the most influential films in American cinema, was a product of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s infectious yearning for freedom in a country that is anything but free. It’s careless story structure, European-inspired editing, and angsty characters lent itself perfectly to the counter-culture audience and Fonda became an American sensation for all the restless kids of the era. Thanks to Easy Rider, and other notable films of the time like Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and The Wild Bunch, a new wave of filmmaking was ushered into America that changed how audiences would view movies forever.
THE HIRED HAND (1971)
After the success of Easy Rider, studios were more than generous in giving away directing gigs to the duo. While Dennis Hopper went on to make The Last Movie, Fonda directed the Western The Hired Hand. Fonda additionally starred in the film as the titular Hired Hand who works as a hand at his own farm after leaving his wife alone at home for 7 years as he drifted. Warren Oates starred alongside Fonda and the two developed quite an impressive chemistry that would blossom more in the 70s. While critically mixed upon its release, The Hired Hand gained respect as one of the important Westerns of the New Hollywood movement for its introspective and acid-inspired take on the West.
RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)
Race with the Devil was a hit that highlighted Fonda’s action-hero status that developed in the 70s. The second film with Warren Oates that Fonda would do mashed together a number of genres to create an exciting genre picture that holds up as pure entertainment from cinema’s most important decade.
ULEE’S GOLD (1997)
Ulee’s Gold was Fonda’s return to the big time after a few years of questionable films. Fonda plays a Vietnam vet, bookkeeper who must take care of his granddaughters and save their mother from drug abuse while his son is locked up in prison. This film earned him a Golden Globe for his performance and also got him an Oscar nomination. Many believe Ulee’s Gold to be one of Fonda’s best roles, and it proves that over time, Fonda was still capable of producing memorable performances!