The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Losers (1970)

Well, at the rate I'm going, I'll watch a new biker movie every year or so. It's not that I don't like them, far from it. It's that at times, it can be difficult to find good ones, even viewable ones. So following up 1968's The Savage Seven (a very pleasant surprise) and 1969's Hell's Angels '69 (liked it a lot, heist movie meets biker movie), here's 1970's The Losers.

At a a remote Army outpost deep in Vietnam, a heavily armed patrol cuts through several Viet Cong ambushes to deliver a special team being used for an almost suicidal mission. Who steps out of the Army truck? Five Hells Angels bikers led by Link Thomas (William Smith), a tough as nails biker recruited by his brother, an Army major (Dan Kemp), who's limited by international law as to what he can do. Just across the border a few miles into Cambodia, an American diplomat/CIA agent is a prisoner of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but American forces aren't allowed to cross the border to rescue him. On the other hand, there's nothing stopping five rogue Hells Angels from hopping on their bikes and riding into Cambodia. With Army backing as long as they're in Vietnam, Link and his men armor their motorcycles with armor-plating, heavy machine guns and grenades, all the while preparing to go in and rescue the captured American.

There are certain low budget genres you just know aren't going to be truly quality moments, many of them from the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Think of the lousier spaghetti westerns, gory, schlocky horror flicks, and in this case, biker flicks. Put a bunch of tough-looking, grizzled bikers on some motorcycles and let the craziness ensue, low budget be damned! If you can embrace that cheap quality, you're in for a treat. Sometimes, it's just too much. I wanted to like this biker action movie from director Jack Starrett (also starring as the paranoid, ranting CIA agent). At its heart, it is a men-on-a-mission movie, a bunch of oddballs working together to pull off a suicide mission. Even the bad ones can be good with that formula, but this one just isn't good enough to recommend. It has a moment here and there, but in between can be rough-going.

For openers, the casting felt like a good jumping off point. A physical bear of a man, Smith is Link, a Vietnam vet turned biker who assembles a team of bikers to pull off a rescue at his brother's behest. He's the leader, but an anti-hero through and through, troubled at what the war has become. He has a soft spot for some of the people he runs into, all the while trying to hold his crew together. That group includes biker regular Adam Roarke as Duke, a fellow vet looking to find a past love in the Vietnamese boonies,  Paul Koslo as Limpy, similarly finding love in a rundown old house, Houston Savage as Dirty Denny, the pot-smoking, booze-swilling, three-way having biker, and Eugene Cornelius as Speed, the goofy, long-haired hippie with an odd sense of humor. There's also Bernie Hamilton as Capt. Jackson, the regular army officer tasked with keeping the Losers in line, and John Garwood playing his right-hand man, Sgt. Winston.

Some cool potential there, right? That's what I figured, but that's what it remains with little else, potential. I expected a hard-edged men on a mission movie with said men fighting impossible odds. Instead, it's a half-boiled love story. We get Roarke's Duke reuniting with his lost love, walking through the fields dreamily, wondering about the future. Koslo's Limpy falls for a Vietnamese girl with a baby and steps in as a surrogate father. What the hell happened?!? Sure, there's some biker shenanigans, Dirty Denny (of course) having a three-way and then getting in a fight with some locals. There's no story, no sense of urgency, and no rhythm in the least. The bikers party and bitch and fight and screw around, outfit their cycles, and then oh yeah, they head into Cambodia. By that point, I'd been fast-forwarding through huge stretches of so-called 'story.'

If there's a remotely positive saving grace, it is the biker attack on the Red Chinese camp in Cambodia. All sorts of crazy bike stunts, gunfire and explosions throughout make it an exciting, adrenaline-pumping shootout. That isn't the end though, some preachiness saved for the last 15 minutes as a movie about bikers on a suicide mission decides it needs to deliver a message to its viewers. Seems logical, right? The ending is not surprisingly pretty downbeat, but it was yet another case of too little, too late. A pretty bad movie, aided by two folk songs in the soundtrack that try to again, add depth to a story that simply doesn't require it.

Make a movie about Hells Angels rampaging through Vietnam and Cambodia and be content with it. Don't try and make it something more. A disappointment.

The Losers (1970): * 1/2 /****


  1. Limpy is a really bad nickname. I mean, the chicks won't get it. I love Paul Koslo and worship William Smith, but this movie was really badly made, and seemed like stock footage or something.

  2. Haha yeah, Limpy would be a ladies magnet in the bars. I thought the cast -- Smith, Roarke and Koslo -- would overcome the generally negative reviews across the board, but I was very wrong unfortunately!