Wednesday, July 27, 2011

#355. The Wild Angels (1966)

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern

Tag line: "Their credo is violence... Their God is hate..."

Trivia:  The Hells Angels brought a $5-million defamation lawsuit against Roger Corman for what they perceived as a negative portrayal of their image

Directed by Roger Corman, The Wild Angels was a surprising success. Budgeted at only $360,000, the movie would take in millions at the box office, and was even selected as an official entry to the 1966 Venice Film Festival. Not bad for a movie about the a biker gang, is it? 

Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda), the leader of the local Hells Angels, guides his gang into the desert, where they hope to retrieve a stolen chopper that belongs to his best friend, Loser (Bruce Dern). When a run-in with the local authorities results in a shoot-out, Loser is critically injured, and taken by the police to a hospital for treatment. Refusing to abandon their friend in his time of need, Heavenly and his gang break Loser out of the hospital with the intention of mending his wounds themselves, an action that brings about a tragedy none of them were prepared to face. 

The Wild Angels is presented entirely from the point of view of the Hells Angels, which just about guarantees a film that's both shocking and controversial. For instance, the gang at the center of The Wild Angels loves to fight, but don’t always do so fairly. While retrieving Loser’s stolen bike, they get into a scrap with some Mexican mechanics, during which the Angels swing chains and beat on guys who've already fallen to the ground. When the cops arrive on the scene, the Angels scatter, and Loser sneaks around the side and steals a police motorcycle, resulting in a high-speed chase. Even when they aren’t fighting, the Angels are living up to their name, raising a little hell. While camped in the woods, waiting for Loser to return, the Angels throw a party that would make a college fraternity blush with embarrassment. The cops are always one step behind the Angels, watching their every move, but the Angels don’t seem to mind. “We got the power”, Heavenly Blues says to the gang at one point, “and it never pays to hassle the man who has the power”.

The Wild Angels struck a nerve with young audiences, who were looking for some sort of relief from the ever-growing war in Vietnam. The Wild Angels gave them an outlet for their pent-up frustrations, and its success would bring about the creation of a whole new sub-genre; the biker movie. Aside from such follow-up films as Devil’s Angels, Angel on Wheels and Hells Angels Unchained, this movie would also serve as an influence on 1969's Easy Rider, one of the most pivotal films of the decade. Without realizing it, director Roger Corman, who once called himself the “squarest guy in a hip crowd”, helped change the face of American film for years to come.

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