Sunday, January 17, 2021



"He Squealed On His Gang...And The Word Was Out...WASTE HIM!"

 RUN ANGEL RUN from 1969 is notable for having several "firsts" attached to it. It was the first biker film that William Smith (THE LOSERS 1970) appeared in and in which would be a genre that he in the coming decade he would become synonymous with. It also marked the acting debut of blog favorite Margaret Markov (BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA 1973) and most importantly was the directorial debut of the great Jack Starrett (RACE WITH THE DEVIL 1975) who would go on to helm a string of drive-in classics along with being a vastly underrated actor (check him out as the evil deputy in FIRST BLOOD).

Produced by Joe Solomon (WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS & ANGELS FROM HELL and who specialized in these) and Paul Rapp SCREAM FREE & THE STUDENT NURSES) it was released during the pivotal year of 1969 for biker films that also included the classics THE CYCLE SAVAGES, FIVE THE HARD WAY, HELL'S BELLES, HELL'S ANGELS '69, NAKED ANGELS, SATAN'S SADISTS, and of course EASY RIDER. All of which would lead to an explosion of choppers, iron crosses, and sleaziness which burst on the screen the following year. Although an exploitation genre film at its core (including a couple of brutal offscreen rapes) there is a surprisingly rather tender love story in RUN ANGEL RUN that makes this film a bit of an outlier.   

Angel (William Smith) has incurred the wrath of his fellow outlaw cycle gang members as he has sold a tell-all story about the biker lifestyle to a major weekly news magazine (titled "Like") for the sum of $10,000.  Unfortunately, Big Bill Smith did not seem to think this one through too carefully as not only does he have to wait two weeks to collect his payment but in addition, he must drive from his home base of L.A. up to San Francisco to retrieve it. Adding to his problems he is thrown in jail and upon having bail posted by his girlfriend, Laurie (Jack Starrett's daughter Valerie Starrett) he learns surprisingly (to him at least -somewhat oddly it would seem) that he is the subject of a massive manhunt by the biker community. All of whom are angrily clutching the magazine while snarling vengeance.

Heading off on his chopper with Laurie he is immediately sent upon by a gang of bikers who pursue him to a railroad yard where Starrett stages an excellent chase sequence involving a moving train that climaxes with Laurie jumping into an open boxcar (probably courtesy of stunt woman Randee Lynn Jensen) and Angel jumping his bike on a flatcar which is helped by some quick editing and changeover from a chopper to a motocross bike for the jump. The sequence also has some multi-screen editing and is a precursor to what a great director Starrett was and his feel for staging terrific action sequences. 

After tangling with some hobo-rapists Angel and Laurie take to the backroads and finding themselves in a small, isolated town they set up home in an abandoned house and attempt a kind of domestic tranquility (which is shaky at best) as Angel gets a job with local sheep rancher Dan Felton (Don Kemp THE GIRLS FROM THUNDER STRIP) where he initially seems eager to settle down. He bonds with Felton after repairing the rancher's antique motorcycle and begins to learn the intricacies of sheep farming including "sheep dipping"(??). Things turn dark when Angel's old gang tracks him down and begin their brutal revenge which tragically involves Felton's teenage daughter Meg (Margaret Markov).

Made for under $100,000 and shot in 13 days it went on to gross 13 million at the box office putting it directly behind A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN and just ahead of THE WILD BUNCH making it one of the most successful films of the outlaw biker drive-in genre. Starrett gets the most out of the film's meager budget and it does get bogged down for short periods of time with some of the mundane plot elements there's slow-building tension as Angel's old gang tracks him down. Although the scenario of the biker wanting to quit and go straight would be used later (such as 1970's ANGEL UNCHAINED), RUN ANGEL RUN is deservedly considered one of the best among the golden period of biker films. 

Thanks to an engaging script and the presence of William Smith who even in this early big screen appearance has a gravitas that comes bursting through. Although seeming eager to settle down with Laurie ("the straight life") he slowly begins to get frustrated only coming to life slowly with the restoration of Felton's antique motorcycle and later during the film's violent climax.

Markov who although in a small early role here shows the beginnings of her later cult status as an actress in the coming decade who is not only a beautiful face on the screen (she is one of those actresses that the camera seems to love) but bringing a wonderful presence to her film roles. After her marriage to actor and later producer Mark Damon (THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT), she would drop out of sight but in the past several years has turned up in several DVD extras and documentaries. 

The screenplay was written by Jerome Wish (his other two credits are THE GAY DECEIVERS and ANGELS FROM HELL) and a V.A. Furlong. As this is the pseudonym-sounding V.A.'s only screen credit I'm wondering if it could actually be Jack Starrett? The busy Stu Phillips (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, THE CURIOUS FEMALE, FOLLOW ME, and a truckload of other credits) supplies the score with the catchy & melodic (and a bit out of place) title theme by country superstar Tammy Wynette with some additional songs by The Windows.   

The full-frame DVD from Media Blasters is taken from a VHS master and features a Joe Bob Briggs commentary.

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