Ryan O’Neal in The Driver
Ryan O’Neal as “The Driver”, professional getaway driver
Los Angeles, Spring 1978
Film: The Driver
Release Date: July 10, 1978
Director: Walter Hill
Costume Designers: Jack Bear, Robert Conwall, and Jennifer L. Parsons
The Driver is a perfect example of European-influenced, American-made, existential ’70s cinema featuring the male anti-hero so frequently seen throughout the decade. A laconic criminal not without his own set of ethics set in a bleak world filled with morally questionable characters, Ryan O’Neal’s unnamed protagonist follows in the footsteps of guys like Vanishing Point‘s Kowalski.
Writer, director, and all-around tough guy Walter Hill’s auteurism clearly shows through in this terrific and über-cool neo-noir where talk is cheap, and those doing the most of it typically have the least to say.
What’d He Wear?
The morally murky world of The Driver doesn’t define its characters by the traditional white hat vs. black hat costuming, despite The Detective’s insistence on referring to The Driver as “Cowboy”. Both men, the relentless and borderline dirty policeman and the code-driven but still criminal driver, sport black suits as their uniforms. In fact, all of the major characters wear the same clothing throughout the film, despite it taking place over a number of days.
Although very much styled of its era with the huge lapels and collar, and flaring trousers, The Driver’s suit is as understated as one would expect from him. While a suit like that would attract attention in 2014, he would have blended seamlessly into an L.A. night in 1978, perhaps only drawing a few female heads for being Ryan O’Neal.
The suit jacket is single-breasted with three black horn buttons in the front that he leaves open for the duration of the film. It fits O’Neal nicely with natural shoulders, roped sleeveheads, and a suppressed waist. Like many traditional American business suits, it has a single rear vent.
Since this is the ’70s, the suit jacket also has a set of massive notch lapels that extend nearly to the shoulders. There is a wide buttonhole and edge stitching present on both lapels.
Driver’s jacket has three patch pockets – one chest, two on the hips. Each cuff has 3 buttons to match the front buttons.
Driver’s suit trousers are flat front with a low rise and wide belt loops to accommodate the large black leather belt he wears. This belt closes in the front through a large squared silver clasp.
In a further indication of the era, Driver’s trousers flare out to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
The Driver wears a pair of thick black leather shoes with black laces and heavy black soles. Naturally, he also wears a pair of black socks.
Driver’s light blue shirt is also a unique part of the outfit. Rather than a traditional dress shirt, Driver wears a lightweight utility-style shirt with a large collar and flapped chest pockets on each side. The pockets are low on the shirt, lining up with the fourth button down, and they close with a single button on a rounded flap.
The shirt also has a distinctive set of white plastic buttons down the front placket. After the top collar button, there are two chest buttons placed very close together, which he leaves undone. The rest of the buttons are spaced normally down the shirt.
The shirt is long-sleeved with mitred button cuffs.
The Driver is light on accessories, wearing only a simple square-shaped watch on his right wrist. This watch has a silver case, white dial, and black alligator strap.
Driver also sports pair of black-framed aviator-style sunglasses with dark lenses for a crucial moment of badassery.
Go Big or Go Home
And speaking of this crucial moment of badassery…
A particularly sleazy criminal in the film, known as “Glasses”, pulls a gun on The Driver after a job.
Glasses: Can’t get over the mistake you made. You’ve been set up, you know.
The Driver: By a cop.
Glasses: That’s right. He’s waiting for you right now at the wrong place. Me and my buddy don’t wanna show up. You two hot-shots have both been set up, haven’t you? You know what always amazed me about you? A guy with your attitude… never carries a gun. (cocks hammer) That’s stupid… very stupid.
As Glasses raises his own .45 to kill, The Driver reveals his own ace in the hole – a Single Action Army revolver and the precision to fire off three well-aimed and fatal shots from the hip, knocking Glasses dead to the ground.
Though he’s got a reputation with The Detective as a “cowboy” (and, appropriately enough, carries a cowboy-style SAA), The Driver has managed to keep the upper hand over his criminal associates by gaining an Andy Griffith-like reputation as an unarmed getaway driver. When a sleazeball like Glasses thinks he can get the drop on The Driver, The Driver seizes the opportunity and blows him away with three almost impossibly quick shots. As Tuco says in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot – don’t talk!”
The Driver is otherwise a consummate professional. He does his job efficiently, adhering to his own set of ethics and not getting in anyone’s way if they’re staying out of his.
As a super ’70s flavor to an otherwise subtle film, an interesting soundtrack choice in one of the film’s scenes is a disco-infused cover of The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day” by Julie Budd, credited only as Julie. Julie’s version of “One Fine Day” reached #93 on the U.S. charts in 1976.
When not out on the road evading cops or crooks, Driver holes himself up in a cheap motel room with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a case of Coors Banquet beer… just as any tough, down-on-his-luck ’70s anti-hero should.
How to Get the Look
The Driver wears a simple, strong, and utilitarian look very befitting for a man whose primary occupation is the execution of nighttime crime.
- Black wool suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted jacket with wide notch lapels, 3-button front, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, single rear vent
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light blue lightweight shirt with large collar, flapped chest pockets with button closure, white buttons down front placket with unique “double buttons” at chest, and mitred button cuffs
- Black leather laced shoes
- Black dress socks
- Silver-cased wristwatch with white square face on black alligator strap
- Black-framed aviator sunglasses with dark lenses
Not surprisingly for a film called The Driver and about a getaway driver, quite a number of cars are prominently featured throughout the movie. The Driver really runs the gamut, showing no particular favor to any one make or style.
When we first meet Driver, he’s picking up a blue ’74 Ford Galaxie sedan. After the Galaxie does its job – or rather Driver does his job – he coolly leads it to its destruction. When a gang asks him to show off his skills, he does so, systematically destroying an orange 1970 Mercedes-Benz sedan with his parking garage maneuvering. A bank robbery and subsequent double-cross places him in the driver’s seat of a brown ’77 Pontiac Firebird, and the final act of the film finds him in the unlikely but spirited red 1973 Chevrolet C-10 Stepside pickup truck.
Chevrolet, which had been producing pickup trucks since the mid-1920s, introduced its full-size light-duty line in 1960 as the C/K series. “C” trucks were two-wheel drive while the “K” indicated four-wheel drive. 1973 was the first year for the third generation of GM trucks that incorporated radical body design changes for more rounded lines; hence this 1973-1987 era informally known as the “Rounded Line” generation for Chevy and GMC trucks.
There were two types of C-10 pickup models available in 1973. One, designated the “Fleetside” by Chevy (and “Wideside” by GMC), featured a full width pickup box with both steel and wood floors available. The simpler, narrower model was the “Stepside” (or “Fenderside” for GMC) with steps, exposed fenders, standalone tail lamps, and only wood floors.
As the rear-wheel-drive model, the C-10 pickup featured an independent front suspension system with contoured lower control “A” arms and coil springs. The rear suspension system was GM’s new Load Control system, consisting of a rear live axle with dual stage Vari-Rate multi-leaf springs and offset shock absorber.
The C-10 Stepside in The Driver is fitted with Chevy’s big-block 454 cubic inch V8 engine, a top performer that had become legendary as the powerhouse in the ’70 Chevelle. In the three years since the Chevelle’s heyday, however, the 454 was detuned to the LS4 454, a lower performing engine rated at 275 horsepower as opposed to the 450 horsepower of the LS6.
Body Style: 2-door pickup truck
Engine: 454 cu. in. (7.4 L) Chevrolet “LS4” big-block V8
Power: 275 hp (205 kW; 278 PS)
Torque: 468 lb·ft (635 N·m)
Transmission: 4-speed Saginaw Muncie SM465 manual
Wheelbase: 117.5 inches (2984 mm)
Length: 191.5 inches (4864 mm)
Width: 79.6 inches (2022 mm)
Height: 69.8 inches (1773 mm)
At least two different C-10 trucks were used during the filming of The Driver. The primary truck, featured in most action scenes, clearly had a Hurst T-handle four-on-the-floor manual transmission. Other shots show a truck with the column-shifting 3-speed Turbo Hydra-matic automatic transmission. Given The Driver’s reputation and talent, it’s most likely that he was meant to be driving the manual transmission version with the automatic version on hand for some stunt or backup work.
The truck, stolen from The Driver’s duplicitous confederates, has California license plates 1E49974.
The other cars worth mentioning are:
The blue 1974 Ford Galaxie 500 pillared hardtop sedan with an automatic transmission, featured during the opening chase.
The “racing orange” 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280 S sedan that Glasses and his associates use to test The Driver.
Teeth: How do we know you’re that good?
The Driver: Get in.
And, finally, the dark brown 1977 Pontiac Firebird Esprit that The Driver is contracted to handle for the gang’s daytime bank robbery. This car, with California plates 487 BAK, serves The Driver well until he abandons it in the warehouse after his confrontation with Glasses.
Interestingly, other than the occasional Fury patrol car, The Driver seems to eschew Mopar vehicles while allowing prominent screen time for Ford, GM, and even foreign vehicles.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie. A lo-res version also appears to be on YouTube in its complete form.
Lotta crooks around these days.
Have you ever done anything on Nick Nolte’s clothes in “The Good Thief,” or Robert DeNiro’s in “Ronin”?
I wonder if the buttons on the shirt are positioned to allow someone to affect the look of a shirt with the top two buttons unbuttoned without the flapping typically associated with that (i.e., he would nearly have the structural “closed-ness” of having that button closed without sacrificing the visual flair of having it actually unbuttoned). I know that this is besides the point given that he has them all unbuttoned anyway, but this is my best guess about the purpose of that shirt button stance logic!
This is the mother of all BAMF films. Terrific post!!
Gee, Craig, I’m gonna have to see this film again ‘cos all I can remember is O’Neal trashing the Merc (he wrecks a few fire hose faucet handles in the process, from memory) and Bruce Dern saying something like “Tonight’s the night the Cowboy gets caught.” In my own defence, I haven’t seen this film since around 1983.
And LS, I must applaud the level of detail in these posts of yours. Staggering amount of research, considering how prolific your are with them as well.
I highly recommend checking this movie out again. I would like to know your opinion of it, especially from a writer’s point of view. The script has minimal dialog with Ryan O’Neal having about a dozen lines in the whole film. It is very similar to James Caan’s character in Thief, the Driver says only what he has to say and that’s it, nothing more. The only negative I would hang on the film would be Bruce Dern. He plays his usual bug eyed loon except a bit more sedate.
I loved Ryan O’Neal in “What’s Up, Doc” and he was brilliant (as was Tatum) in “Paper Moon”, but he seemed an odd choice for “Driver”. Although, I’m probably remembering his performance differently to what it actually was, I’m sure. But I do recall that he doesn’t say very much in it. Never seen “Thief”, but Jimmy Caan in anything is worth watching. Trying to actually see these films is the tricky part, Craig. My local DVD library became a supermarket (world’s going to hell, folks) and the TV stations here now screen nothing but reality TV, “The Big Bang Theory” , “CSI” and every Bond, Harry Potter, and Batman movie on an alarmingly regular schedule. It’s actually pretty obscene. When it gets to the point where “Dr No” is on TV and I don’t want to watch it, you know things are bad.
As for the writing, I liked Walter Hill’s “Last Man Standing”, since it very closely followed Hammett’s “Red Harvest”. And, I’m getting on a big Ross McDonald kick at the moment, but trying to find any pre-owned copies of his Lew Archer stories is proving difficult. I got “Harper” on DVD on its way (thanks for the write-up a few weeks ago, LS. I’m rediscovering Paul Newman as well. Dude was a dead-set legend) and I may snap up “The Drowning Pool” as well, since it appears to be a better film than the reviews of the time suggested.
It would be interesting to read the screenplay for “The Driver” since there’s probably more action and description and less dialogue throughout it.
Your spot on with Ryan O’Neal as the lead in The Driver. He was playing completely against type at the time. What’s Up Doc was terrific, it was my mother’s favorite film. Every time it came on ABC’s sunday night movie, she would commandeer the tv to watch. I never got tired of that movie.
I have to admit, having bought the film twice–once way back in its fantastic CBS/FOX VHS box, and again a couple of years ago on Blu-Ray–I’ve decided it’s really a rental. Unless you just absolutely need it to complete your car chase collection. Great fun looking at old downtown LA, though… And great to see it pop up in BAMF
That 1974 ford galaxie 500 looked like it was different cats one minute it looked green and another it had a different color the car had a 400 c.i.d motor 173 h.p and 326 lb of torque (manatory drivetrain in California)