5 stars for "The Wild Angels" -- the original infamous biker
- Durrkk | Ohio/PA border USA | 01/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I didn't see "The Wild Angels" until Fall, 2004; it was my first exposure to the biker film genre that ran for less than a decade in the late 60s to early 70s. (I had, of course, seen Peter Fonda's "Easy Rider" , but that was more of a drug culture flick than a biker film).
Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" was released in 1966 and kicked off this biker film craze, which makes it the perfect introduction to the genre, not to mention it's the best of the lot I've seen, by far. It only runs 88 minutes.
THE PLOT: Heavenly Blues (Fonda) and The Loser (Bruce Dern) are members of The Angel's bike gang (obviously modeled after the Hell's Angels). The first half hour shows them and their "old ladies" (Nancy Sinatra & Diane Ladd) living the wild, free & crazy lifestyle of a biker gang in Southern California. Due to the incredible folly of the gang members, The Loser perishes. The final hour involves his death and subsequent funeral & burial in some small town in the mountains. The gang members can't handle their grief and seek solace through excessive revelry, drugs & alcohol, criminal acts and depressed withdrawal.
The first half hour is quite entertaining and precisely what you'd expect from a 60's biker flick. The Southern California locations and cinematography are incredible and the story is compelling. The film was shot in Mecca, Idyllwild and Palm Desert. While there's some good biker action in this initial segment, the final 55 minutes takes a slow, dark, solemn and completely shocking turn that will likely turn some viewers off if they're not ready for it. This final hour shows that "The Wild Angels" is not an action film at all, so don't expect a lot of action-oriented excitement if you're catching it for the first time. It's a biker drama that touches on some heavy issues -- friendship, death and grief, as well as alcohol, drug and sexual abuse.
I'm a big Marlon Brando fan so I've seen "The Wild One" from 1954, the original biker flick (for the 50s, that is), but the worst thing Brando and his gang do is brawl, drink and chew gum. This may be "wild" but certainly not mean-spirited or criminal.
"The Wild Angels" was filmed only 12 years later, so how much more "wild" could Fonda's gang be? Well, if you're seeing it for the first time, you're in for a surprise because The Angel's are WAY beyond merely wild & free (as they're depicted in the first 30 minutes), they're totally wicked imbeciles! (Although Fonda himself, I should point out, is portrayed merely as the epitome of 'cool').
Want proof? The Angels break into the hospital to "free" The Loser and he ends up dying for lack of proper medical care for his critical injuries (sustained while trying to flee the police). They make sure to get him high before he dies though. While breaking into the hospital one Angel savagely attempts to rape a nurse. And guess what kind of thanks The Angels give to the minister who kindly performs The Loser's funeral? They beat him up and trash his sanctuary (!). Guess what kind of comfort two Angel's offer The Loser's grieving girlfriend? They cruelly rape her (!). To top it off they outrageously abuse The Loser's corpse at the funeral party (!!).
As you can see, The Angel's aren't just anti-heroes in this film, they're THE SCUM OF THE EARTH. Not only that, but they're a bunch of LOSERS who, as Fonda points out, just "want to get loaded" (in his almost laughable rant). Hey, everyone needs to let their hair down and celebrate now and then (God even seems to advise it in the Bible -- Deuteronomy 14:26), but if the sole purpose of your life is to just "get loaded" you're not gonna look very good when you hit 35 (The Angels in the film are all in their 20s), and you're certainly not going to have any energy, drive or charisma. Yeah, the "party animal" lifestyle gets old real quick, and then ya gotta grow up (everybody grows older but not everyone grows up).
Despite what some say, Nancy Sinatra does a fine job as Fonda's girlfriend; she would later renounce the film, however, due to it's over-the-top immorality.
In my teens I went through a "party animal" phase and actually partied with real bikers on quite a few occasions (albeit The Outlaws, not the Hell's Angels). These were some bad dudes, to be sure, but they were generally pleasant and merry, sort of like modern-day Vikings; I never experienced anything that remotely resembles The Angel's heinous conduct in this flick. Hence, the extreme immorality described above is an exaggeration. Knowing that controvery sells, Corman portrayed The Angel's in this manner simply for the sake of shock value. Most viewers, I'm sure, realize this. Still, there's at least SOME truth to the nature of such outlaw and outcast American biker gangs as depicted here.
FINAL ANALYSIS: The first time I saw "The Wild Angels" I was completely taken aback by the wicked immorality of The Angels; I simply wasn't prepared to see this in a 1966 picture. I also felt the film really bogged down with The Loser's death, funeral and burial (the last 55 minutes).
I now consent to the film's uniqueness and brilliance. This is a cult flick in the truest sense. Yes, some of The Angel's behavior is incredibly reprehensible and, yes, the preacher in the story was right when he stated, "Woe to those who say evil is good and good is evil." Still, the picture successfully captures the utterly outcast and outlaw nature of The Angel's bike gang. They're like a small, totally lost tribe living on the periphery of American society. In a way, one can't help but pity the poor bastages.
Also, I now acknowledge the genius of the final 55 minutes of the film, which involve The Loser's death, funeral and burial. If you're psyched up to see an action film you're going to be disappointed because "The Wild Angels" boldly sneers at such film conventions. The story is essentially about death and the nature of bereavement. It powerfully shows how the various gang members deal with their grief: They generally deny it and attempt to lose themselves in drinking, drugs, revelry and criminal & perverse conduct. The leader (Fonda) can't shake his mournful spirit of loss; he's not even sure if he loves his "old lady" anymore. When everyone else scatters because "the heat" arrives, he stays -- risking impending capture -- to bury his fallen comrade.
The original title of "The Wild Angels" was much better and more fitting: "All the Fallen Angels."
In conclusion, despite being a B-grade flick, "The Wild Angels" is shocking, bold, unique and well worthy of its notorious reputation. In fact, it was banned in Denmark, one of the world's most 'liberated' countries, when it was released. What thrusts it into the realm of greatness is its heavy commentary on the human condition in a world gone mad, which may be completely missed by some viewers who won't likely see beyond the shocking aspects.
If you're watching it for the first time you'd better brace yourself.
[I haven't seen the misnamed "Hell's Belles" yet, so check out the other reviews for that film. If nothing else, it's a nice bonus]."
The good news is...................
David33496 | boca raton, florida United States | 06/09/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The film-quality of both movies is excellent. The not-so-good news is that they are on the boring side. The second movie is mis-named. The title "Hells Belles" led me to believe the movie would be about two or more women and motorcycles. There are women in the movie, but only one has a part, and it is a secondary one. The movie is about one man fighting another man and his gang over a stolen motorcycle. The movie made me think Sylvester Stallone got the idea for Rambo after watching it."
Get your Drive In fix
Pitz | chicago, il. USA | 09/26/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you're in a 70's drive in mood these two are excellent and the transfers are superb. The plots of course are the usual mindless stuff, but entertaining they are."
The Wild Angels
kevin sexton | Minnesota | 07/11/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you like motorcycles, good times, Peter Fonda, nostalgia of the 60's, then this movie is for you. Filled with totally crazy happenings and a lot of very cool motorcycles.. I can't ruin it, so BUY IT! WATCH IT! LOVE IT!"
Wild angels / hell's belles
Steven Banks Adamick | fairfax,virginia | 07/14/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Fonda was great in Easy Rider and was equally the same in Wild Angels, the plot was well scripted for the 60's, didn't care for the Home Town Church scene, that's what branded bikers in the first place... not too cool!!"