Monday, July 13, 2020



     Long before major Hollywood films dealt with the returning Vietnam Veterans and their sometimes difficult transition to civilian life the low budget biker films of this era often dealt with this and while they often did this with this on a pure exploitation level they did (mostly by default as I highly doubt they were looking to make serious social commentary) inject some feeling and pathos to the characters.
    Looking to break away from his Disney/Mouseketeer persona Tommy Kirk (OLD YELLER) stars in this 1971 genre effort which was co-written and directed by Ted "Duke" Kelly who's only other IMDB credit is the even more obscure "G" rated MY NAME IS LEGEND from 1975 which also starred Tommy Kirk. Kelly's notable claim to fame is that he's referred to as "a friend of Audie Murphy" in several sources and there are also a few references to his work as a stuntman but there are no credits that bear this out. I was also hard-pressed to find any evidence of a theatrical run for RIDE THE HOT WIND with no one-sheets or other promo material in circulation. It's probably played a few drive-in double or triple bills before fading into obscurity. There was a mega-rare VHS release back in the day that in spite of my renting every biker movie I could lay my hands on back in the days of video rental I never came across. Currently, there is a nice widescreen copy (with some appropriate grindhouse-style cigarette burns and dirt) available to stream on Amazon that carries the Vinegar Syndrome logo at the closing.

    Opening with stock footage of Vietnam combat during the credits (some of it quite graphic) we jump to a stateside military trial (which looks like it was filmed in a school gymnasium) where Capt. William Shanks (Tommy Kirk although billed here as the more adult-sounding "Tom" Kirk) is on trial for the massacre of Vietnamese women and children. Obviously based upon the actual incident concerning William Calley and the My Lai Massacre, it's a bold attempt at a contemporary issue from an exploitation film and in the hands of a more capable cast and crew (more on this later) could have really been an interesting and provocative story.
   After being found guilty Shanks is court-martialed and sent to a military prison where he is humiliated and brutalized in a brief montage (director Kelly loves his montages here). Upon getting a pardon he hits the road hitchhiking and is picked up by soft-core queen Marsha Jordan (MARSHA: THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE and COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE) who invites him to her hotel room for a tumble. He finds work in an advertising agency and begins a relationship with a co-worker which leads to the first of TWO(!!) falling-in-love montages that we're treated to during the course of the film. Once his identity is known is to his employer Shank is summarily fired and unable to find other stable employment he falls in with a biker gang after beating up their leader during a fight at a roadside diner.

     The seemingly hopeless and befuddled biker gang defer to Shanks on everything (referring to him as "Captain") and he in turn yells and berates them every time they engage in biker-movie type activities including assault, robbery and the kidnapping and rape of two women. Shank dreams of escaping to Mexico with his unbelievably sweet biker girlfriend but things spiral downward to the nihilistic ending as Shanks and his gang are pursued by the local law enforcement (led by a jut-jawed and steely-eyed Ted Kelly). At one pint the biker gang launches into a party complete with dancing that must have reminded Kirk of his previous "beach party" movies.
     The film's plot contains some interesting points that if explored more deeply would have made for far more engaging viewing, but Kelly's flat direction and not picking up some of the deeper motivations to Kirk's character makes one wonder why they were introduced in the first place. Along with the above mentioned My Lai reference, there's also an interesting use of flashback from the biker violence to Shank's time in Vietnam that's clumsily approached, Kelly as the pursuing sheriff carries some begrudging respect and pity for Shanks which adds some nuances to the film's climax and their relationship is reminiscent of  LONELY ARE THE BRAVE and TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE.
     There's a lot of potential here and one wonders what a director like Jack Starrett or perhaps even Richard Rush could have done with this concept with William Smith, Bruce Dern, or Adam Adam Roarke in the lead role. Kirk seems to have only two emotional states in the film being either sullen or lashing out in over-stated anger every 10 minutes and strangely for the leader of the biker gang we never actually see him ride a motorcycle. Along with Kirk and the famously well-endowed Jordan, there are a couple more recognizable faces lurking around including Cheryl Waters (ACT OF VENGEANCE and MACON COUNTY LINE) as Shank's biker girlfriend and Sherry Bain (THE HARD RIDE and WILD RIDERS) as his advertising agency romance.
   The film's score is composed of library tracks one of which will be familiar to some viewers as it's been used in ad bumpers for local TV news. According to some signage seen it was filmed in the Lake Los Angeles area near Lancaster.



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