The Wild Angels
In the early days of his acting career Peter Fonda was closely associated with the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. While most movie fans but immediately conclude that this was because of his early success in the cult classic ‘Easy Rider’ but that was not the movie that first place them on top of that iconic motorcycle. That place in history was secured three years prior to ‘Easy Rider’ in the movie considered here, ‘Wild Angels’. This movie was directed by Roger Corman was earned the title ‘King of the B movie’. His films were commonplace in drive-ins across the country and commonly used a second feature in local theaters. Most important legacy this filmmaker will leave is how he has mentored extraordinarily large number of future Oscar winners. While many film schools focus their curriculum on artistic flair cinematic nuances Mr. Corman toward his apprentices the practicalities of filmmaking. He was known for bringing movies in under budget and on time spent a long way to ensuring the film would be financially viable. Around the time that this movie was made the Hells Angels motorcycle club was becoming more prominent in the news and subsequently as themes for films. Usually the scenario was a boilerplate the biker gang comes into a small defenseless town completely taking it over by using violence to instill fear in the inhabitants. Corman wanted something different with his movie. He wanted the story to come from the perspective of the bikers. That within the gang there is a strongly held code of conduct and hierarchy. He intended to show that despite the violent world they lived in they did adhere to their own culture. Many years later several of these ideas would be brought back by a man named Kurt Sutter for premium cable television series, ‘Sons of Anarchy’. Superficially this may appear to be an early biker flick but actually it made a significant influence on films and television that would follow.
This is one of Roger Corman’s better-known rotation flicks. This movie had everything that was necessary to make it in the grind house circuit, sex, violence and complete disregard for authority. As long as a movie have those elements will that was expected out of the plot simple story providing scaffolding for this scenes the audience actually came to see. One member of the Hells Angels’ Venice chapter, Loser (Bruce Dern) is had his motorcycle stolen. This is considered a serious insult to Loser bravely affecting his position in the club. The evidence points to some Mexicans who assemble in a garage as the thieves. Actual evidence proving their involvement in the crime was secondary to their need to have a brawl. During the fight police show up and break up the fight the Angels escape on foot with the police in close pursuit. Loser decides to take a more daring approach by stealing a police motorcycle. This provided the motivation necessary for the genre requisite chase scene. The police pursue Loser on a mountainous road where one officer eventually shoots him in the back.
Loser’s best friend, Heavily Blue (Peter Fonda) cannot leave her wounded comrade behind. It devises a plan to break them out of the hospital. During the extrication another gang member sexually assaults one of the nurses until Blue intervenes. The old saying "no good deed goes unpunished" to sufficiently demonstrated and despite being saved by Blue she identifies him to the police. The rescue mission was for naught since without proper medical attention Loser soon succumbs to the bullet and dies. Managed to obtain a death certificate for their fallen comrade and they arranged to have a church service Loser’s rural hometown. A preacher (Frank Maxwell) is taken hostage in order to officiate. The Loser is laid out in a coffin draped with the Nazi flag. Shortly into the service heavily blue decides would be a good time to have a wake in the form of a wild party. Bongo drums come out in the gang members and their single ‘old ladies’ caught up in the Bacchanalian festivities. This consists of removing the corpse from the casket, propping them up in a seat with a joint in his mouth. Not wanting to have an empty casket they knock out the preacher and place them in the coffin.
The cinematic footnote attributed to this film is it helped introduce the next generation of a couple of Hollywood dynasties. Most notably is Peter Fonda son of the legendary Henry Fonda, brother of Jane and Bridget. In the role of his female lead, Mike 'Monkey', is Nancy Sinatra the daughter of one of the most famous singer/actors in history, Frank Sinatra. Nepotism doesn’t stop there as Bruce Dern was paired with his real-life wife of the time, Diane Ladd, although they divorced a few years after this film was released. Adding to the Academy award caliber alumni of the Roger Corman School of film Fonda, Dern and Ladd eat for nominated promotable Academy Awards. Another Academy award nominee can be found in one of the gang members, Pigmy portrayed by Michael J. Pollard. This is typical of the Roger Corman production and the efficacy of his training continues to be demonstrated today as some of the careers he helped to start on now ranked as the elite of Hollywood. As an extra bonus for those with sharp eyes take a close look at the townspeople who are engaged in the fight at the Loser’s funeral and you see a very young and uncredited Peter Bogdanovich. He also served as assistant director and script doctor for the film. The movie was almost universally panned by critics of the time as well as frequently condemned by religious groups and parents. Tom has proven however this movie proved to be a nurturing environment with some of the industries greatest and help to infuse a touch of realism to the genre.
Underlying the unabashed violence and sexuality there is an existential layer of angst and loneliness. As the epitome of might makes right the Hells Angels basically could have anything they wanted just by taking it. This film shows how this brought no satisfaction to them as they each were spiraling to obsession with their own egos that could only lead to their own destruction. The foundation of the movie with the usual trademark combination of reality and exaggeration that always proved to be one of Corman’s greatest strengths. From one perspective there is a documentary feel to the movie with the camera providing a voyeuristic view to the audience allowing us to observe the hedonistic lifestyle of the most famous biker gang. This edition has been released by Olive Films license the rights from MGM. This distributor has been making a name for itself by taking a number of cold classics and remastering them for high-definition. I’ve seen this movie many times on a number of different formats ranging from Neighborhood Theater to DVD in this Blu-ray release is by far better than I could’ve imagined. You can see the grain of the letter the fray texture of the cloth that serve as the bikers uniforms report to a greater level of realism the most probably was available to the original audiences some previous releases had a color palette that was noticeably faded but that has been addressed this release with great care. The usual pitfall over pushing the contrast enhancing the columns was avoided in order to obtain a very natural video. If you’re a fan of Roger Corman from have this in your collection are ready but his new Blu-ray edition is well worth the investment.