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Hells Angels on Wheels

Hells Angels on Wheels(1967)

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Hell's Angel's on Wheels (1967) is a pre-Easy Rider (1969) biker film by Richard Rush, who would later surprise everyone by directing the critically acclaimed and multiple-Academy Award nominated film The Stunt Man (1980). Hell┬žs Angel's on Wheels is a much earlier effort and a straightforward, low-budget quickie that stars Jack Nicholson as "Poet," a lone-wolf cyclist with what one Hell's Angel groupie refers to as somebody with "nice, middle-class morals' - and this because he's uncomfortable stripping down in front of a third party. Don't worry, though, Jack soon loses enough inhibitions to partake in group-gropes at a Hell's Angel's party where body paints are splashed about as often as the beer, but beneath it all, he's still an old romantic who's willing to do anything for the girl.

Hell's Angel's on Wheels is not exactly "the best thing since 7-UP" (as one biker groupie says), but it does feature cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, who would work with Nicholson on several other films, including Easy Rider, and Five Easy Pieces (1970), and it has groovy music by Stu Phillips, a veteran of various television series soundtracks who did music for such films as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), among others. Appropriate for the era, colors, whether in set design and/or clothes, are bright and lively.

In a bid for authenticity, there is a special opening credit to veteran and real-life Hell's Angel leader Sonny Barger, as himself. According to the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Barger was responsible for bringing "along followers from Oakland and Daly City as well as the Nomads of Sacramento." In the Re/Search #10 publication Jim Morton says "the Angels liked and endorsed the film" - a gesture few critics could figure out." Reader's of Hunter Thompson's Hell's Angles will be disappointed by the relatively tame proceedings on film, as disgruntled bikers say lines such as "It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven" and bar brawls carry as much emotional impact as an early Batman television series fisticuffs (minus the sound-effect graphics), but the gang fights do erupt with regularity and there are plenty of other shenanigans to keep the motor running. The real kicker for this film, the genuine payoff, the moment-to-remember that makes it all worth the price of admission, is all packed into the very end. It comes with a message of betrayal that merges with the credits and leaves you a bit stunned, a powerful and abrupt flash that devours the various meandering detours that precede it.

Image Entertainment's dvd release of Hell's Angel's on Wheels presents the film in its widescreen ratio along with original trailer.

For more information about Hell's Angels on Wheel, visit Image Entertainment. To order Hell's Angels on Wheels, go to TCM Shopping.

by Pablo Kjolseth