Tuesday, May 13, 2014



Their credo is violence....Their God is hate....And they call themselves "The Wild Angels" !

"We wanna be free ! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man !"

     By the mid 60’s Roger Corman was most likely getting a bit tired of Poe influenced Gothic horror (and plus saw a shrinking market with competition from Hammer) and looking to do something that didn’t involve cobwebs & crypts saw an article in Life magazine concerning outlaw motorcycle gangs. Although not the first motorcycle movie, THE WILD ANGELS was the one that kick started the genre in relation to the drive-in/exploitation market and first one to portray cyclists as truly dangerous anti-social violent criminals.
    The script was initially written by longtime A.I.P. scribe Charles B. Griffith and as presented to Corman had very little dialogue concentrating more on action whereupon Roger turned it over to Peter Bogdanovich (who also served has 2nd unit director & appears in a brief cameo) to beef up the characters a bit. Watching it today it still amazing to see what a wonderfully gritty little film it is (and filled with memorable quotes, as in Fonda’s closing epitaph – “There’s nowhere to go….”).
   Although as stars Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra maybe look a bit too well scrubbed and groomed (with Nancy particularly looking like a biker chick as would be cast on THE BRADY BUNCH). This is balanced out however by a scruffy performance by Bruce Dern as doomed biker “The Loser” (“Anybody got a straight cigarette…?”), a couple of off screen (although heavily implied) rapes, tons of Nazi regalia, drug use and to really get "the man" uptight – the desecration of a church (along with the minister).

    Opening with one of the more startling scenes in Corman’s career, as in tracking shot we see a child pedaling a tricycle down the sidewalks of Venice, Ca. when suddenly Peter Fonda’s motorcycle violently invades the frame and stops just short of hitting him while a young mother runs up to rescue the child. Peter as “Heavenly Blues” rides out to see “The Loser” (Dern) at his place of work in the Long Beach oil fields to inform him that his stolen chopper has been located and after getting into an altercation with his foreman (Dick Miller) Dern is fired.  Hooking up with Dern’s wife “Gaysh” (Dern’s real wife Diane Ladd), Fonda’s girlfriend Nancy Sinatra (who goes by “Mike” or “Monkey”) along the rest of the gang which is filled with familiar faces such as Michael Pollard (BONNIE & CLYDE), Gayle Hunnicutt (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) and and busy TV character actors Norman Alden & Joan Shawlee they head out to the desert town of Mecca to retrieve Dern’s bike (while catching the attention of the police and stopping along the way for some beer drinking, PG rated orgies and some sans Nancy bra & panties only carousing).

     After a run in with the police Dern steals a police motorcycle and during the ensuing chase is shot which nictitates the gang stealing his body from the hospital whereupon with medical attention he dies. The film climaxes with his funeral (complete with a Nazi flag draped coffin), which turns into a wild party complete with the widow being violently raped behind his coffin, a minister getting beaten & placed in a coffin and best of all Dern’s body hauled out his coffin and propped up with a joint in his mouth. Like most biker movies there isn’t really a whole lot going on plot-wise (the entire movie simply serves as a build-up for the climatic funeral), but thanks to Corman’s direction (which makes beautiful use of the widescreen) and some razor sharp editing by Monte Hellman THE WILD ANGELS moves along at a pretty decent clip even with the standard filler (lots of bikes tooling down desert highways & drunken carousing – but hey, that why you watch these !).

   It’s interesting to watch Fonda in this as a precursor to EASY RIDER (I swear sometimes you can see the gears turning in is his head as thinks about that future project) as he looks basically the same in both movies and its curious to think of his character in EASY RIDER as just being Heavenly Blues a few years down the road. Although Peter and Nancy are the nominal leads here it’s Bruce Dern who really shines here as “The Loser”. Always an interesting actor, his characters always seemingly to be with a tenuous grasp of their sanity, he bounced around between low budget stuff, T.V. and as a sniveling weasel in westerns (where he was usually killed by John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in the second or third reel except in THE COWBOYS where he memorably shoots Wayne in the back) before making a big impression with 1972’s SILENT RUNNING.

   As mentioned Nancy Sinatra looks a bit out of place here with her make-up, hairspray and turtlenecks, but does look cute as all heck on the back of Fonda’s cycle and was probably cast mostly on the basis of her recent chart hit These Boots Were Made For Walkin’. Plus in THE WILD ANGELS she does get to trade in on her tough chick image that was being promoted by her record label at the time. Sometimes her character seems oddly similar to Annette Funicello's in the A.I.P. beach music - the good hearted girl who just wants to settle down and get married and does truly seem like the biker mama you could take home to your real mother. 
  George Chakiris (WEST SIDE STORY) was originally suppose to play the role of Heavenly Blues but it turned out he couldn’t ride a motorcycle and insisted on a stuntman and a double so Corman bumped up Fonda (who was suppose to play the role of Loser) to the lead along with moving Dern up to a supporting role. Although the jackets in the movie are shown simply as “Angels San Pedro” Corman used actual members of the Hell’s Angels in the film, although Roger claims their participation was a bit hard to count on and later he got into a bit of a hassle with them concerning payment. Dern later said in interviews he got the crap beaten out of him on the set for wearing the official Hells Angels “colors” at one point. The Mike Curb soundtrack is preformed by Davie Allan and the Arrows (amongst a few other bands) and features the classic fuzz guitar opening theme as Fonda tolls down the interstate.


  1. It's in the video vault but I haven't seen it yet. I'm very much looking forward to it. How could you go wrong with those ingredients?

    1. It's one on my favorites. The old MGM Midnight Movie release is getting pretty hard to find, so I hope we can get a nice re-issue at some point - hopefully with some extras as all the main participants are still with us.

  2. I need to just get a list of the best biker movies from you. This is a genre I really want to get much deeper into after seeing Hell Ride.

    1. Hi Rob - I'll send you off a list when I get a chance.