The Wild Angels
The Wild Angels is a 1966 American outlaw biker film produced and directed by Roger Corman. Made on location in Southern California, The Wild Angels was the first film to associate actor Peter Fonda with Harley-Davidson motorcycles and 1960s counterculture. It inspired the biker film genre that continued into the early 1970s.
|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, released by American International Pictures (AIP), stars Fonda as the fictitious Hells 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 Hells 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."
Roger Corman became interested in making a film about the Hells Angels after seeing a photo in the January 1966 of Life magazine for a biker funeral. Corman approached AIP, Charles B. Griffith was hired 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.
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 holds a 61% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews.
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.
Edited samples of dialogue from the film, where Fonda's character Blues explains his attitude toward life to the preacher at Loser's funeral 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). Some of the same sample of dialogue was also featured in the launch trailer of the video game Need for Speed (2015). 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.
- "It was a Life magazine photograph that gave me the idea for The Wild Angels," Corman recalled in his autobiography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. "The photo, in a January 1966 issue, showed a group of Hell's Angels on their choppers going to the funeral of one of their members. I brought the project to AIP and they went forward with a treatment titled All the Fallen Angels." Turner Classic Movies, Film Article: "The Wild Angels" by Jim Stafford.
- 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
- "The Wild Angels (1966)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 January 2019.