Even though high class film critics rank Roger Corman's work somewhere between Hal Needham's and the baboon responsible for "Flashdance", I'd put him right up there with Stanley Kubrick and the chimpanzee that made "The Manchurian Candidate." Is "The Wild Angels" Corman's best movie? Maybe not, but I couldn't find "The Man With The X Ray Eyes" at my local video place so I'm gonna go with "The Wild Angels." Things are about to get really weird in America and "The Wild Angels", a product of the late sixties when America seemed to have gone way beyond weird, is truly a film for our time. Unless you can find "The Man With The X Ray Eyes", of course. I mean, come on - A movie about a dude with X Ray vision is always cooler than anything about American Society! Be real, man!
It wasn't the actual existence of the California Hells Angels that inspired Corman to make "The Wild Angels" as much as the commercial success of Hunter S. Thompson's first book "The Hell's Angels." The mainstream media had already covered the Outlaw Biker phenomenon with "Good Lord! These people are animals! They must be stopped!" style coverage in Newsweek and Time, but Thompson was the first journalist to gain inside access to The Angels by drinking and riding with them until finally discovering their true nature when they got tired of him and beat the shit out of him. And what great insight was Thompson rewarded with for his efforts? - "GOOD LORD!!! THESE PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS!!! THEY MUST BE STOPPED!!!" I'm just glad Tom Wolfe beat Thompson's dumb ass to Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters. Although Corman didn't need to be nearly beaten to death to know that The Angels were a bunch of sociopathic pigs, he was still enough of a Carny to hire actual Hell's Angels as extras for his Freak Show Movie. Corman would tell em "When I say 'Action' I want everybody to run outside, jump on your bikes, and ride off!" and when he'd say "Action!" they'd just sit there smoking cigarettes and waiting for him to give them a reason to beat the shit out of him. Or he'd tell 'em "In this scene, I want you to just sit there smoking cigarettes and listen to the actors." and when he'd say "Action!" they'd run outside, jump on their bikes, and ride off. In general, all of the exterior sequences of bikers riding down the highway that you see in the film were supposed to be interior dialogue scenes and all the interior dialogue scenes in the film were supposed to be exterior sequences of bikers riding down the highway. One big fight scene somehow turned into a musical production number that eventually wound up in the final cut of Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz". All of the rowdy party sequences of bikers drinking, getting high, and making out with girls were shot by the bikers themselves when they grabbed hold of the cameras and locked Corman and all of his crew up in the back of an equipment truck. To make things even more unpleasant, when Frank Sinatra found out that his daughter Nancy was starring in a movie full of Hell's Angels he sent over a bunch of Mafia goons to serve as bodyguards for her. Corman must have been using a non-union crew because otherwise there would have been a bunch of Mafia goons on the set already. The bikers and the mobsters spent long hours staring at each other and anyone unfortunate enough to step within their line of sight was instantly disintegrated as if they had been hit by the Martian Heat Ray in "The War Of The Worlds".
There are a few normal humans in "The Wild Angels" although, since they are actors, "Normal Humans" is pushing it. As "Blues," the leader of the movie's gang, Pete Fonda may not be Marlon Brando in "The Wild Ones," the original biker movie, but Marlon Brando is only good when he's a big funny lovable fat guy. What the hell is he doing sitting around when somewhere in Southern California there is a warehouse full of dusty old John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley scripts just waiting for him? People only think Pete Fonda is a lame actor because he's so quiet and they think a good actor is some Robin Williams jackanapes who jumps all over the place and won't shut the hell up. Despite what you see on TV shows like "The Practice" and "Third Watch" very few people go around delivering dramatic monologues all day long and when they do none of us has the time to stop and listen to their shit. There are a lot of people who are kind enough to keep their mouths shut in this world and it would be good if we could have more movies about them with more parts for actors like Pete Fonda. Like that guy Clint Eastwood from "Rawhide", I think he would have been good in the movies.
Bruce Dern plays The Loser, Blue's Jughead-Kramer-Norton lovable comedy sidekick. Luckily "The Wild Angels" was filmed about fifteen years before everybody got sick to death of Dern's Jittery Brain Damaged Psycho routine, so it's cool. It also doesn't hurt that we see him get shot by a cop, crash a motorcycle, and crawl around the pavement in agony. Dern is always unbelievable in movies where he plays a healthy adult citizen with a career and a family, but when getting shot by a cop, crashing a motorcycle, and crawling around the pavement in agony Dern is every bit as authentic as Martin Lawrence finger painting with his dirty diaper in "Mongoloid Mutha". Indeed, Dern was so convincing as a greasy biker that at one point in production a man thought he was a real biker and pulled a gun on him and then a real biker assaulted him just for not sporting the correct gang colors. That's all cute and funny, but while filming the later scenes in which the Loser is dead and lying in a coffin the County Coroner performed an autopsy on Dern in which all of his internal organs were removed, the lid of his skull sawed off, and his brain removed. But then he could do Acid without doing any psychological damage, so it was fine. "Damn!" cried Corman "Where was the camera crew while all that was going on?" "We were locked up in the back of the equipment truck with you, Mister Corman!" "Oh."
As mentioned before when I didn't have any jokes about her, Nancy Sinatra is in "The Wild Angels" as Blues' unhappy gal and, to be honest, she really doesn't look that great. There, I said it. What the hell is gonna happen - Her Dad is gonna send some goon over to break my legs? He's DEAD, for cryin' out loud! So I guess now he's gonna send some fork tailed demon up from the Depths Of Hades to possess my bod and make me puke split pea soup all over the place. I don't care about that. You wanna scare me, make me eat a couple of those Arby's roast beef sandwiches with that weird ass horseradish sauce - I'll never make that mistake again! Whew! If Linda Blair had scarfed down a couple of those in "The Exorcist" them Priests woulda left her the Hell alone and she woulda Conquered The Universe. This is the kind of psychotic rant I always wind up with whenever I'm square enough to write about Frank Sinatra. I hate that Rat Bastard and I'm not afraid to say it. (He really is dead, right? Right? If he's just hidin' out like Elvis we can cut all this out, okay?)
Diane Ladd, Bruce Dern's wife and Laura Dern's Mom, plays Gaysh, The Loser's girlfriend and the emotional focus of the movie. If you really want to be corny, you could say that Laura Dern plays a minor role in "The Wild Angels" because Ladd was pregnant with her during the production. But then, the Old Guy who plays a Hospital Security Guard in "The Wild Angels" had a tumor inside his head at the time and Corman doesn't give it any credit either. Ladd isn't quite as good looking as Laura turned out to be, but she's so sweet as Gaysh you can't help but love her. When we first see her, Gaysh is sitting on the front porch of the shack she lives in with The Loser and looking at a comic book as if it is the most wonderful thing she's ever seen in her whole life. Later on Corman cuts right in the middle of a drunken outdoor bacchanal to Gaysh perched in a tree examining the leaves with great interest - Cute! She's a sweetheart of a gal who fell for the wrong kind of guy! Hhhhmmmm, no wonder all my ex girlfriends dug "The Wild Angels" the most out of all the crazy movies I made 'em sit through. Even more than "Rawhead Rex"!
I'm sorry I couldn't get into the characters, plot, and theme of "The Wild Angels" as much as I would have liked to, but this article is running a little long. I probably would have had more room for a detailed analysis of the film if I had cut that comedy routine about how crazy it would be if cats smoked weed, but my Bill Murray side won out over my Roger Ebert side. Acid Logic Editor Wil Forbis says he's going to start cutting out all the comedy bits I put in these articles, but he wouldn't dare cut out my routine about how crazy it would be if cats smoked weed, would he? Come on and cut out my "If Cats Smoked Weed" bit, Forbis! Go on! I dare you! You don't have the guts! Ha! We know who the Boss is around here! Ha!
When "The Wild Angels' was released in 1966 Corman was widely criticized for glamorizing the Angels and their lifestyle. In fact, once The Hells Angels themselves saw the movie they hit Corman with a five million dollar Defamation Of Character suit for portraying them as a bunch of beer swilling dope smoking reprobates. Well, Damn! They were right there on the set the whole time Corman was making the movie - Did they remember Corman filming any scenes where the Angels rescued a bunch of little kids out of a burning school house or liberated a few thousand Jews from a Nazi concentration camp? Hey, I don't know - Maybe Corman just pretended to shoot a couple of scenes like that just to mislead the Angels into doing something that was going to make them look bad. "Okay, Igor - this is the scene where you sing 'Bess You Is My Woman'. This is gonna be the big opening scene!" Then Corman mumbles to the cameraman - "There's no film in the camera, right? Good!" Finally Corman forked out ten thousand bucks to get em off his back which, considering that a case of beer would have done the trick, was probably the single most extravagant expense in his entire career as a producer. "The Wild Angels" was a tremendous success and set attendance records in Drive Ins across America as well as representing the United States at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. I didn't know they had Drive Ins in Venice. How can you watch a movie through the windshield of an underwater car? Is the screen underwater? How can you project a movie onto an underwater screen? I think they must have Paddle Ins where you watch the movie in your gondola. I dunno, the French are crazy.
Speaking of them people, if you're a Real American like me and you don't like all the crap the French have been giving us lately, the French language captions on "The Wild Angels" DVD are full of Real Two Fisted Tough Guy American Bad Ass phrases conveniently translated into Franco-Stinco Lingo sos you can give them bums the authentic Hell's Angels Treatment the next time they start running down THE BEST GODDAM COUNTRY IN DA WOILD!!! Ecoutez et repetez:
"Tais - toi!" - "Shut up!"
I've got the DVD OF "Super Troopers" right now but it doesn't have French language captions. However, if you were to bend a Frenchman over a table, shove the "Super Troopers" DVD up his ass, and then kick him him in the butt repeatedly until the DVD broke into a few dozen pieces and did severe damage to his rectum it will discourage him from insulting our Great Nation again in the future. If you are a real man you should be able to do the same to a French woman without the DVD or the kicking.
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org