Monday, August 5, 2019


"He came home for peace and love and found another kind of war"

     The biker movie and exploitation genre were ahead of the major studios' releases in as far as showing the thousands of returning Vietnam veterans their and sometimes difficult transition to civilian life. These films like RIDE THE HOT WIND (1971) with a post-Disney Tommy Kirk as a William Calley-like figure that however clunky in the exposition did attempt to show this and although the end result was to simply sell tickets with hyperbole filled lurid ads it's interesting to see what they attempted. A few like the "road movie" WELCOME HOME SOLDIER BOYS from 1971 and 1974's horror-centric DEATHDREAM had very moving stories at their core. 
     Directed by low-budget jack-of-all-trades Burt Topper (THE DEVIL'S 8) and released in 1971 THE HARD RIDE attempts to tell a serious social statement while at times veering into the standard biker troupes (albeit with a "GP" rating) as it all the sudden seems to remember it's genre roots. There's some gorgeous scenery courtesy of Yosemite National Park and the female lead played by Sherry Bain is written with surprising depth compared to the usual female role in these films and she carries most of the acting weight. 
     THE HARD RIDE both opens and closes with scenes that make the effort to lift the film into art-house pretentious as over the opening credits we're shown a huge line of choppers moving across the desert through shimmering heat while Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers powers through "Swing Low Sweet Chariot".

    Opening with a budget-constrained Vietnam sequence we see Phil (Robert Fuller from TV's LARAMIE and EMERGENCY) escorting wounded fellow soldier Lenny (Alfonso Williams who would appear in Graydon Clark's similarly themed TOM in 1973). Lenny makes Phil promise to take care of "Baby" and quickly the plot jumps stateside as Phil escorts Lenny's body back. Meeting up with the minister (Marshall Reed THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN) who ran the orphanage where Lenny grew up, Phil learns that "Baby" is, in fact, a customized chopper, and Lenny has left directions with him to round up one of his cycle gang members named "Big Red" to attend the funeral. 
    The jut-jawed stoic Phil (Fuller has two facial expressions throughout the entire film) takes possession of the chopper and hooks up with Lenny's waitress girlfriend Sheryl (Sherry Bain THE WILD RIDE) who at first reluctantly joins him in the search for the ubiquitous "Big Red". Lenny happens to be black and with Sheryl being white we think the picture will attempt some commentary on race relations, but this is quickly dismissed by Fuller after he tosses back Sheryl's accusations of being uncomfortable with the couple's past relationship. 
    The sight of Phil riding "Baby" (which is a truly impressive chopper and to Fuller's credit he does the majority of the riding himself without the aid of towing or a trailer) attracts other bikers in the area which leads to several confrontations including one with Grady (William Bonner HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS) and his gang who are camped in the middle of a vast desert. Sheryl and Phil's journey is one of the more impressive sequences of the film as we see the beautiful scenery of Yosemite, the Colorado River, and the 17 Mile Drive in Monterey. These riding sequences are often used to pad out time in these films (and to give the soundtrack a boost) and the scenery here helps out the film in this regard instead of the usual desert bound biker film. We even get a stop off at Bronson Caverns. The (sometimes seemingly endless) journey also gives a chance for the developing relationship between Phil and Cheryl to flesh out for better or worse as the tedium does set in at certain points.

   The film is one of the more gentle movies of the genre and Fuller doesn't don the usual biker trappings and instead wears a sheepskin jacket and sunglasses. At certain points, it does throw in some standard bike gang types (along with a roving gang of teenagers) but the film seems to want be more of a thoughtful road movie and the climax does find things getting a bit darker with the discovery that "Big Red" (Tony Russel THE WILD WILD PLANET) is not the noble friend ready to help honor a fallen friend. While it's admirable that the film attempts to do something more, it's most enjoyable when it occasionally delivers what we came in for in a biker film titled THE HARD RIDE with the tag line "Some Machines Are More Than Most Men Can Handle!" as a leather-clad Bain straddles the one-sheet poster.
    I grew up watching Fuller on EMERGENCY on TV and although he's fine in the lead role he just seems to be channeling the forever cool and confident Dr. Brakett and plops the same personality on a motorcycle. He moves through the entire film with the same unflappable steel-eyed resilience (along with unflappable hair) and the film presents him as an untroubled veteran seemingly at peace with his war service, but to picture his Phil as the psychotic veteran which permeated exploitation movies of this period is almost unthinkable for Fuller's character. 
     Red-headed Sherry Bain also appeared in RIDE THE HOT WIND and WILD RIDERS and later popped up on 70's TV. Her Cheryl has one of the more fleshed roles for a female in biker films and she presents herself as independent and self-reliant who actually seems more emotionally involved in the proceedings than Phil.
    Tony Russel had gone to Italy in the early '60s where he appeared in peplums and westerns (often billed as Tony Russell) and after returning to the states in the late '60s showed up on various TV shows through the '70s. 
    The film carries the short-lived GP rating (which was soon replaced by PG) and has some toned downed biker violence, fleeting nudity in a side trip to a brothel, some nearly nude skinny dipping by Bain, and all-in-all is a wonderful example of what films could getaway within the '70s without having to worry about an R rating. 
     Along with the above-mentioned Bill Medley, the soundtrack released on Paramount Records features songs by Harley Hatcher including light pop/rock such as "Riding Along With Baby" and the country-rock "Carry Me Home" among other non-threatening songs. Also, on the soundtrack is biker soundtrack mainstay Davie Allan with The Arrows credited on the guitar-driven "Grady's Theme" and he probably contributed the atmospheric blues guitar that shows up every so often (he's credited with "orchestrations" on the closing credits).

No comments:

Post a Comment