The Wild Angels
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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|
|Screenplay by||Charles B. Griffith|
|Music by||Mike Curb|
|Edited by||Monte Hellman|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Box office||$15.54 million|
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 then 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.
'Heavenly Blues' is the leader of the Angels motorcycle gang from San Pedro, California. 'Loser' is his best friend. 'Mike' is Blues' "old lady".
The story begins in a quest to find Loser's stolen motorcycle. The plot is simply a buildup to a climax in the last half-hour of the film which is Loser's funeral. Loser's funeral is the showpiece of the film.
In between sprees of sex, drugs, rock and roll, booze, loud revving Harley chopper motorcycle engines, bongo drums and fights, the Angels ride out to Mecca, California in the desert to look for Loser's stolen motorcycle. One of the Angels finds a brake pedal, which he says is a piece of 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 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 roadblock that the police have in place. Eventually one of the officers shoots Loser in the back, putting him in the hospital.
Blues leads a small group of Angels to sneak Loser out of the hospital. A nurse hears a noise and comes into the hospital room. One of the Angels assaults her. Blues pulls the Angel away, forcing him to stop. The nurse having seen Blues and identifies him to the 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, Loser dies.
The Angels forge a death certificate for Loser and arrange for a church funeral in Sequoia Grove, Loser's rural hometown. Blues tells The Angels to go to Sequoia Grove on their bikes, in ones and twos, using different roads and do not show their club colors while traveling. The Angels arrive at Sequoia Grove, assemble at the church and carry in Loser's casket which is draped with a Nazi flag.
The funeral preacher arrives at the church; he looks at the assembled motorcycle gang and Loser, lying in repose in his coffin, with disdain. He undertakes a funeral sermon; it is a eulogy consisting entirely of funeral oratory cliches. This pathetic eulogy angers Blues and he interrupts the preacher's gibberish shouting, “Oh no, preach, not children of God, but Hell’s Angels”. Whereupon, the Angels decide to have a "party" in the church. They remove Loser from his coffin, they sit him up as "a guest of honor" and place a joint in his mouth. They tie up the preacher and put him into the casket. A wild orgy ensues. Blues disappears behind the church's pulpit and apparently has sex with a woman. Finishing his business, he rises up from behind the pulpit, perfectly attired, and he tells his gang that it is time to bury Loser.
The Angels, some riding their bikes, others walking and carrying Loser's casket, move through the town in a funeral procession to the Sequoia Grove Cemetery. At the cemetery, the people from the town mysteriously show up outside the gate. While the Angels were peacefully gathering around Loser's grave, a town youth throws a large rock, hitting one of the Angels, which provokes a brawl between the Angels and the townspeople. Police sirens are heard approaching in the background. Everyone scatters. The Angels mount their bikes and rapidly leave. Blues' girlfriend, Mike, begs him to leave. She tells Blues that his reaction to Loser's death is, “It’s like you went with him”. But Blues refuses to leave and tells her to get on the bike of another member of the gang and go. With resignation, Blues says to Mike, "There's nowhere to go." Blues, left alone in the graveyard, puts on a pair of gloves and takes a shovel in hand. He slowly begins shoveling dirt into the open grave to bury his friend Loser.
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Roger Corman became interested in making a film about the Hells Angels after seeing a photo of a biker funeral in the January 1966 issue of Life magazine . 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.
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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 earning $7 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada, the highest-grossing low-budget film at the time.
The film had admissions in France of 531,240 people.
The movie's success established Fonda as "a counter culture film star".
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 Gary King at the end of 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
- Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M194.
- Setlowe, Rick (February 11, 1970). "'Easy Rider' No Accident; Those AIPix Trailblazed For It". Daily Variety. p. 6.
- Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
- Vagg, Stephen (October 26, 2019). "Peter Fonda – 10 Phases of Acting". Filmink.
- "The Wild Angels (1966)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- The Wild Angels on IMDb
- The Wild Angels at AllMovie
- The Wild Angels at the TCM Movie Database
- The Wild Angels at Rotten Tomatoes
- Roger Corman on The Wild Angels at Trailers from Hell
- Nelsen, Michael Curtis (April 21, 2015). "'The Wild Angels' Lays Out the Rules of the Biker Film". Retrieved July 21, 2020.