Tuesday, June 14, 2016

THE LOSERS 1970

aka NAM'S ANGELS

Ultimate Bad-Ass William Smith & His Biker Gang 
Channel Some Dirty Dozen Style Action in Vietnam !!


"THE ARMY HANDED THEM GUNS... AND A LICENSE TO KILL !"




      During the Vietnam war the U.S. Army is faced with a risky mission in forbidden Cambodia and unable to send regular U.S forces they do the next logical thing and recruit a biker gang to carry out the mission. Combining plot elements of THE DIRTY DOZEN mixed with the biker movie genre and adding in tough guy William Smith along with cycle flick regular Adam Roarke, the weaslley Paul Kolso (in a rare semi- sympathetic role) and direction by the great Jack Starrett which when all combined together would seem to create instant drive-in alchemy.
     Although any biker movie with William Smith is pretty much an automatic thumbs up the problem with THE LOSERS is that it doesn't seem to have much of an idea with what to do with itself before the climatic attack sequence. Filmed entirely in the Philippines it probably would have benefited from some more recruitment and back story plot workings (ala' THE DIRTY DOZEN) but most likely because of budget and the ease and economics of using Filipino filming exclusively for the entire film this was not to be.
      Opening with a bang and a roar, we're shown a U.S. Army truck convoy being ambushed as they travel along a jungle road and then upon arriving in camp, gang leader "Link" (William Smith) and his cohorts (who are all fitted out in full biker regalia) chamber off the back of the trucks. The gang which includes "Duke (Adam Roarke DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY), "Dirty Denny" (Houston Savage),"Speed" (Eugene Cornelius RUN ANGEL RUN) and "Limpy" (Paul Koslo MR. MAJESTYK) have been recruited by an Army major (who happens to be Link's brother) for a secret mission. A diplomat/CIA agent has been captured and is being held in Viet Cong prison located just over the Cambodian border. Seeing how American forces aren't allowed to cross the border, the U.S. Army hires a gang of bikers (!) to complete the rescue as there's obviously no problem with a group of denim and leather clad bikers from the U.S.A. tearing into the war and blowing up tons of stuff.



     Several of the gang members are ex-military and upon arriving in camp they find themselves under the leadership of ramrod straight Capt. Jackson (Bernie Hamilton from STARSKY AND HUTCH), along with his right hand man Sgt. Winston (John Garwood HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS). Immediately they jump into things bikers from biker movies do best - including the requisite fighting, drinking and messing around with woman, all of which leads to a lengthy wait until the films climax. In the meantime they do get to hangout at a bar complete with a rock band and a woman in her underwear go-go dancing.
     To the film's credit it does attempt to give a bit of depth to the characters as Roarke's "Duke" hooks up with his old girlfriend from his service days and Limpy falls in love (in the space of about two minutes) with a young Vietnamese widow, developing a bond with her and her young child. Luckily Dirty Denny is around to keep the biker credo alive by jumping into his old business of running a bar/whorehouse and engaging in orgies with his girls.


You can't have a sweaty Filipino drive-in flick without Vic Diaz !!

     It's here that the proceedings get s a bit bogged down as there's not a whole lot of action to move the plot along, but the film in the place of this does try for some character development that differs from most biker films (plus, there's a nifty sequence involving the gang customizing their cycles's into combat mode complete with armor plating and rocket launchers !). As with most biker films there lots of footage of motorcycles rolling down the road (although down a jungle road here) and the sequences with Roarke and Koslo's romantic interludes while giving the characters depth does slow things down a bit. As mentioned Koslo's transformation from grungy biker to caring family man seems to happen literally from one scene transition to the next.
    The cast helps with this immensely as with lesser actors in these roles the lengthy middle sequences would suffer even more. Although he often played tough roles Roarke always lent a bit of pathos to his characters and was always undervalued as an actor. Paul Koslo has spent his career playing weaselly spineless characters so its a bit of a change here to see him playing a more honorable guy (albeit a biker) and is one of those actors that seems to quietly steal whatever movies he appears in.




     And then there's William Smith as "Link". Without a doubt, blessed with one of the greatest on-screen presence in the history of movies he seems to engulf the entire film just by standing there and when he's not around you can almost hear the air deflating from the plot.  Here playing an ex-serviceman returning to Vietnam, he quietly convoys a man who once believed in the cause but now is disgusted to see what its become and becomes increasingly suspicious of their mission's murky reality. In reality Smith has an actual life biography that's even more impressive then his IMDB page !
      Director Starrett was one of the true icons of 70's drive in movies. Although best know to most people as the sadistic deputy in 1982's FIRST BLOOD he directed such classics as RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975), CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) and A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976). He sadly passed away in 1979 at the age of of only 52 before his career could be fully appreciated.
      The film ends with a suitably rousing finale with lots of explosions with bodies & motorcycles flying about and those typical Filipino stunts that make you wonder what the real-life casualty rate was during the film's production. The climax also features a cameo by Jack Starrett as the raving paranoia fueled CIA agent whose the object of the rescue.  






  

5 comments:

  1. One of ma' faaaaves! William Smith forever! I recommend HOLLYWOOD MAN (1976) if you haven't seen it already, Dick.

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    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks ! I love HOLLYWOOD MAN. I have a DVDr copy of it and it's long overdue for a legit release. I've never seen it listed even as far as a possible release by any company. I wonder if there's some rights problems ??

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  2. I've never been a fan of war movies of any kind. I guess the closest thing would be House with William Katt. Or maybe Terminator, if that counts at all. But this, all flaws aside, sounds like something I might enjoy. The biker angle, which is something I've been growing more and more into, is intriguing.

    I remember mentioning a long while ago that you should do a series on biker films. I know I asked, but forgot what you said, what would you consider to be the best of the biker movies?

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    1. HI Rob,

      I would love to do a biker series at some point. I've got a bunch of stuff lined up for the coming months, but i'll see how it goes later this year. Maybe I'll try and set up a blogathon ?
      I liked this one a lot, but I think my favorite is still Roger Corman's WILD ANGELS. It's from 1966, so it's not has rough & grungy as some of the later ones, but it does have Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern - plus Nancy Sinatra (whom I've always had a thing for).

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  3. Have you ever seen Werewolves on Wheels? I've always been super curious about that one.

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