The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hell's Angels '69

By the late 1960s, movie studios seemed to start catching on that the same-old movies weren't appealing to audiences so there were releases like Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Easy Rider, among many more.  They reflected the changing times that were seeing a hippie/drug culture grow bigger and bigger, basically groups that were fed up with the status-quo and society's "norms."  Easy Rider specifically opened up a whole new genre of movies that had only been touched upon in the previous decade or so.

I don't know if it has an official name, but let's call it the biker genre where motorcycle gangs roamed the country causing havoc wherever they went.  I've only seen a couple, but from what I've read they were typically low-budget, drive-in type movies that cost as much to make as people spent to get into the drive-in or theater.  But I'll say it again, low budget doesn't mean bad.  It can be appealing in a lot of ways.  Last week's TCM Underground movie was called Hell's Angels '69, released in 1969 at the height of these biker movies.  Even though the IMDB rating is pretty low at 5.0/10 -- give or take a few decimal points -- the movie is pretty good, probably due to the talent involved.

Heading west on their motorcylces, brothers Chuck (Tom Stern) and Wes (Jeremy Slate) meet a gang of Hell's Angels and do their best to start off on good terms with these tough, very anti-social bikers.  The Angel's are a little skeptical of them but allow the brothers to ride along with them a little while as they all continue west.  Chuck and Wes though have a plan that unbeknownst to the Angel's involves them.  The brothers plan to break off from the group and head into Las Vegas where they'll be staying at Caesar's Palace.  Years of preparation has gone into putting this plan into action...they're going to knock off the casino for all the money they can carry using the Hell's Angels as a diversion.

Think of this as the original Ocean's 11 except instead of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack we get a gang of dirty, long-haired bikers.  It's one of the more unlikely heist movies I've come across, but at the same time, it's one of the better ones because of the story's simplicity.  The robbery itself is so simple -- even with the diversion -- that it surprised me that it didn't have a twist.  The last 30 minutes are the aftermath of the casino robbery as a Las Vegas detective (G.D. Spradlin, Senator Geary from Godfather II) tries to piece everything together while the brothers put their escape plan into effect.  Don't be disappointed though, the bikers figure out they've been duped and head out on the vengeance trail.  The movie is named after them so it's not like they'd disappear at the best part.

With B-movies, you have to expect a certain amount of cheese from the proceedings, but for the most part, 'Angel's' is free of it.  Sure, there is a lot of footage of the gang riding around, doing tricks, riding through Vegas, that does nothing to advance the story at all, but that's to be expected to a certain point.  It looks like Stern and Slate did a fair share of their own riding so that's always a positive too.  With one exception of an actor I recognized from another movie, the Angel's are played by actual members of the gang out of Oakland.  I won't post links because for most this was their only role, but it adds a sense of reality and for lack of a better word, coolness, that these bikers are authentic.

As the brothers leading the charge, Stern and Slate do double duty here, writing the script together while Stern also produced and put up a lot of his own money to get the movie made.  They had worked together the year before in The Devil's Brigade so I'd assume they met there and formed a fast friendship.  Because they both had something invested in the movie, it comes across better.  Stern was only in a handful of movies, and Slate was typically a supporting player so it's definitely cool to see them step into starring roles.  For one, they look alike, and they have a definite chemistry together so the brothers come across as very believable.  There are two twists -- one more important than the other -- in the last half hour that involve their backgrounds and their motivation for the robbery.

The story never really lags, but two key scenes stand out to me as out of the ordinary for a drive-in B-movie.  The build-up to the heist, the robbery and the aftermath are handled nicely in an exciting way that keeps you guessing as to what's going to happen.  Then, in the finale, there's a tension-filled chase on dirtbikes (SPOILERS watch it HERE) as the brothers run from the Hell's Angels.  The ending is a bit of a shocker, but it also leaves it open for your own interpretation as to their situation.  Surprisingly good low budget movie, and certainly a strong introduction to the all-powerful biker genre of the late 1960s.

Hell's Angel's '69 <----trailer (1969): ***/****

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