The Wild Angels
|The Wild Angels|
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
|Directed by||Roger Corman|
|Produced by||Roger Corman|
|Written by||Charles B. Griffith|
Peter Bogdanovich (uncredited)
|Edited by||Monte Hellman|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
The Wild Angels is a 1966 Roger Corman film, made on location in Southern California. The Wild Angels was made three years before Easy Rider and was the first film to associate actor Peter Fonda with Harley-Davidson motorcycles and 1960s counterculture. It was also the film that inspired the outlaw biker film genre that continued into the early 1970s.
The Wild Angels, released by American International Pictures (AIP), stars Fonda as the fictitious Hell's Angels San Pedro, California chapter president "Heavenly Blues" (or "Blues"), Nancy Sinatra as his girlfriend "Mike", Bruce Dern as doomed fellow outlaw "the Loser", and Dern's real-life wife Diane Ladd as the Loser's on-screen wife, "Gaysh".
Small supporting roles are played by Michael J. Pollard and Gayle Hunnicutt and, according to literature promoting the film, members of the Hell's Angels from Venice, California. Members of the Coffin Cheaters motorcycle club also appeared.
In between sprees featuring drugs, fights, sexual assault, loud revving Harley chopper engines and bongo drums, the Angels ride out to Mecca, California in the desert to look for the Loser's stolen motorcycle. One of the Angels find what they say is a piece of the Loser's motorcycle in a garage that is the hang-out of a Mexican group. The two groups brawl with the Angels apparently winning. The police arrive and the Angels escape but the Loser gets separated from the others and is left behind. He steals a police motorcycle but is not able to lose the policeman who is pursuing him or evade the road block that the police have in place. Eventually one of the officers shoots the Loser in the back, putting him in the hospital.
Blues leads a small group of Angels that sneaks him out of the hospital. One of the other Angels attempts to rape a nurse (Kim Hamilton) who happens to hear a noise and comes into the room. Blues pulls the other Angel away, forcing him to stop the attempted rape, but the nurse sees Blues and identifies Blues to police (It is never resolved whether the nurse identifies Blues in error as the man who attacked her, or if she identified him only as one of the people who got the Loser out of the hospital). Without proper medical care, the Loser goes into shock and dies. His cohorts forge a death certificate and arrange a church funeral in the Loser’s rural hometown. Blues loses his temper and interrupts the minister's sermon. The other Angels follow his lead and have another "party". The Angels remove the Loser from his Nazi flag-draped casket, sit him up and place a joint in his mouth, knock out the minister, place him in the casket, and two Angels drug and rape the Loser’s grieving widow, Gaysh, while Blues is apparently raping another woman.
Later, the Angels proceed to the Sequoia Grove cemetery to bury the Loser. There, the locals throw stones at the Angels and provoke a fight. As police sirens approach and everyone scatters, Mike begs Blues to leave immediately, but he refuses and tells her to leave with another member of the gang. Blues stays behind, and before starting to bury his friend on his own, says with resignation, "There's nowhere to go."
- Peter Fonda as Heavenly Blues
- Nancy Sinatra as Mike
- Bruce Dern as Joe 'Loser' Kearns
- Diane Ladd as Gaysh
- Buck Taylor as Dear John
- Norman Alden as Medic
- Michael J. Pollard as Pigmy
AIP became interested in making a film about the Hell's Angels after seeing a photo on the cover of Life magazine for a biker funeral. They approached Roger Corman, who hired Charles B. Griffith to write a screenplay. Griffith's first draft was a near-silent movie which contrasted the bikers with the story of a police motorcycle cop. Corman did not like it and had Griffith rewrite it. Corman still was not happy and gave it to Peter Bogdanovich to rewrite. Bogdanovich had met Corman socially and agreed to write an adventure script in the vein of Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai "only cheap"; Corman pulled Bogdanovich off that project and paid him $300 to work on Wild Angels. Bogdanovich later estimated he rewrote 80% of the script. He later directed second unit and did various other odd jobs.
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Film critic Leonard Maltin called The Wild Angels "OK after about 24 beers." It opened the Venice Film Festival in 1966, to tepid response. In a 2009 interview, Corman told Mick Garris that the US State Department tried to prevent the film from being shown in Venice on the grounds that it "did not show America the way it is." But the film was shown there anyway.
Corman took chances with this subject matter and the Charles B. Griffith–authored screenplay, without being overly graphic, paid dividends commercially: The Wild Angels was the 16th highest-grossing film of 1966, earning $5.5 million in domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals.
The film had admissions in France of 531,240 people.
While promoting another of his 1960s counterculture movies, The Trip, and autographing a movie still from The Wild Angels depicting Bruce Dern and him sharing one motorcycle, Fonda conceived the film Easy Rider. Easy Rider was also about two men, but with each riding his own motorcycle.
A sample of dialogue from the film, where Peter Fonda (as Blues) explains his attitude toward life to the preacher at Loser's funeral (The preacher was played by Frank Maxwell) was used at the start of Mudhoney's 1989 track In 'n' Out of Grace (from Superfuzz Bigmuff) and later Primal Scream's 1990 single Loaded (from Screamadelica). The same sample of dialogue was also featured in the launch trailer of the video game Need for Speed (2015). The same audio of Fonda's speech was also sampled repeatedly in the Edgar Wright film The World's End, as well as repeated by Simon Pegg's character in the movie.
The Wild Angels was released to DVD by MGM Home Video on April 1, 2003 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD, on September 11, 2007 as part of The Roger Corman Collection (movie number seven of a set of eight), and to Blu-ray by Olive Films (under license from MGM) on February 17, 2015.
- Samuel Z Arkoff & Richard Turbo, Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants, Birch Lane Press, 1992 p 163
- "The Wild Angels, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
- Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 pp. 243–245
- "Exclusive Interview: Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich". Blu-ray.Com, March 26, 2012. Accessed 3 June 2013.
- POST MORTEM: Roger Corman
- Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards, which includes listings of "Box Office Domestic Rentals" for 1966 taken from Variety, St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1996. ISBN 0-668-05308-9.
- Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
- Fonda, Peter, Don't Tell Dad, Hyperion Books (April 1998).
- Playboy, "Playboy Interview: Peter Fonda", HMH Publishing Co., Inc., pp. 85–108, 278–79 (September 1970).
- Look, "Nancy-Another Swinging Sinatra", Cowles Communications, Inc., pp. 59–63 (July 12, 1966).