Hells Angels on Wheels
By: Jim Dugger
Happy New Year Everybody! Hope everyone had a safe one and you’re still sticking with your resolutions. I know I’ve already failed miserably. Well this month’s movie masterpiece is Hells Angels on Wheels. Released in 1967, this one brings many memories from my youth flooding back. I remember my family loading up and heading to the drive-in on Saturday nights where I saw this gem for the first time. For all you millennial’s out there, back in the day you could actually watch movies outside under the stars, in your car. Which as a horny teenager made date nights much more interesting.”WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE.”
This movie has an interesting history as well as some notable stars. The biggest being a young and dapper Jack Nicholson. He plays “POET” a gas station attendant trying to figure out what to do with his life. Adam Rourke plays “BUDDY” the leader of the Hells Angels. Adam was a main stay as a leading man in several bikexploitation films of the time, such as The Savage Seven, Hells Belles and Born Losers to name a few. Sabrina Scharf plays “SCHILL” the sex object between Poet and Buddy. She later appeared in “EASY RIDER” and was a Playboy bunny at the Playboy Club. She would later run for California State Senate only to narrowly lose by less than 800 votes. Sonny Barger the president of the Hells Angels MC has several cameo appearances as well as some of the actual club members were used. They say this was the first time that all the riding scenes and extras were club members and used in the making of a biker flick. The club traded use of their name and insignia for appearances and mention in the credits. Sonny Barger said in his autobiography that this movie was the most true to life representation of the Hells Angels to date. Also if you’re a B-flick fan you will recognize some familiar faces such as Jack Starrett, John Garwood, Gary Littlejohn and Bruno VeSota to name a few.
Our story begins with the Angels meeting up and riding down the freeway by the hundreds. (VERY COOL) They get to town and do what all self respecting bikers do, raise hell and cause trouble. Several go to the gas station where we are introduced to “POET”. He gets fired for bad-mouthing a customer and gets on his bike and leaves. “VIEWER WARNING!!!” Make sure your seat belts are fastened because this thing jumps all over the place. Later that night the Angels end up at a bar, raising hell (imagine that) when Poet rides up and his headlight gets broken. A fight ensues and he is saved from an Angels beat down by Buddy. They all ride to another bar to settle a score with a rival gang and a bar fight ensues. This is where Poet meets Schill and is caught kissing her by Buddy. It’s cool cause the Angel’s share everything.
They then ride to a carnival where Poet gets into a beef with 4 sailors and gets his ass kicked. When the Angel’s hear of this Buddy sends Poet and Schill to her apartment and begin searching for the sailors. When they find the sailors (you guessed it) a fight breaks out and Buddy ends up killing one of them. At the apartment Poet and Schill are falling for each other. (There are hints of a ménage a trios and lesbianism which was very controversial at the time) . When the Angels show up some sort of a long drawn out, drunken and drug induced orgy breaks out. It seems this was all improvised for filler. I can only surmise on why: 1 is to show the wild and free spirit of the biker life style of the time: 2 they were just plain stoned. Judging by the hippieish, flower power music I believe it to be the latter. (The funniest thing is when the cops show up they start spraying air freshener to hide the smell). After some hassling from the man, they decide to ride to Nevada to get 2 members married.
The next day their back at the gas station and Poet becomes a prospect. The cops show up and give the Angels an escorted ride to the state line. (Not of their choosing) Once in Nevada they find a church and force the priest to perform the ceremony. (A traditional Hells Angel’s wedding! That’s laughable). After the nuptials and Poet and Schill having another bout with their morals, they ride to a motel to celebrate. Our loving couple gets a room, and after some words with the towns locals (bingo, lollipop you guessed it) a fight breaks out. As our loving couple is constamateing their nuptials the cops show up and break up the fight.
The angels then ride out to the woods and do some sort of biker ballet to some really bad hippy, flower-power music. (Not sure why? Filler? Stoned? You decide) Poet realizes he’s in love with Schill and this life-style is not for him and wants them both to leave the club. Buddy rides up and makes Schill ride with him. (Poor girl gets passed around more than the joints their smoking) There’s more riding and they stop at a hill climb and try to ride to the top. More riding and they stop and chase sheep around a pasture. (Really, stoned again I suppose) More riding and they run a car off the road and the driver is killed. They are all stopped at a road block at the state line and one Angel is arrested. He’s allowed to ride his scoot to jail accompanied by 2 motorcycle cops. (Really! Why do I always get to ride in the police car? Can you guess what happens next?) Of course the Angels ride in, wreck the cops and they all escape to the “ruins” for a party. As the party rages, Schill tells Poet she’s pregnant. Buddy and Poet get into a fight over her and she helps Buddy, breaking Poet’s heart. Poet goes to walk away from her and the club and……………………………..THE END!
WTF!!! Worst ending ever! Just leaves you scratching your head and confirms my suspicions that the director was stoned out of his gourd! You’ll have to see it for yourself.
This flick won cult status for the aggressive atmosphere of the 1960’s and 70’s era exploitation flick and a reasonable representation of the wide spread paranoia surrounding the motorcycle gang phenomena of the time. It was directed by Richard Rush and really didn’t have any direction. As stated many times earlier this humble correspondent believes they were partaking in some of the “KIND” through –out the shooting of this flick. The plot is pretty much non-existent which is typical of these low budget films of the day. Most seem to be improvised and made up along the way. The acting isn’t bad, cheesy and amateurish but not bad. Jack Nicholson carries the load in this one. The music is just plain bad and doesn’t really fit the movie at all. It was composed by Stu Phillips. (Ever heard of this groovy cat? Me neither) No self-respecting biker, much less the Hells Angels would be caught dead listening to this free-love, flower power hippy crapola. Why not some old school biker rock and roll like Joe Cocker, Canned Heat, The Band, Sly and the Family Stone, War and Blood, Sweat and Tears just to pull a few out of the way back machine. Cinematography is actually pretty good. It was done by famed cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs, billed as Leslie Kovacs at the time. The old school bikes are very cool. I’m not sure why this flick has achieved cult status because a lot that followed are much better. Maybe it’s because of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels MC or Jack Nicolson, I’m not sure. So is this movie trash? Sure. Is this movie worth watching? Absolutely! But then again I’m bias. It’s only 95 minutes long so roll you up some reefers, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Til next month……………