At the very first minute it is there, the symbol of a depraved youth who won’t listen anymore, a symbol of the emerging subculture of the 1960s and to this day a biker symbol, the Iron Cross. Only Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister wore it better, as right now as it’s just dangling around Peter Fonda’s neck … by the way, why is the Ö in Motörhead? Because it looked simply meaner, more German-like, he said at least once in an interview. Back to the movie this is all about: “The Wild Angels”.
The Iron Cross flashes and Peter Fonda kick-starts the engine and a gargling sound fills every biker’s heart and shortly afterwards “Bongo Party” by Davie Allan & the Arrows breaks off. My first and last thought until the end of the film: I was born much too late!
“The Wild Angels” was the first film to associate Peter Fonda with Harley-Davidson motorcycles, three years ahead of “Easy Rider”, in fact, “The Wild Angels” marked the beginning of the outlaw biker movies. Some people say that it was “Motorpsycho” by Russ Meyer from 1965, but we’re not watching this one until next week.
In “The Wild Angels” Peter Fonda is Heavenly Blues, the leader of the Hells Angels San Pedro, Bruce Dern is his closest friend Loser. Okay, the name and the story are not quite Pulitzer-winning material, but very vivid and therefore quickly summarised: Loser’s motorcycle is stolen, the gang captures a rival Mexican biker gang, the bikers fight, Loser flees on a police motorcycle, the police shoots, Loser is put in the hospital, Heavenly Blues and the gang sneak him out, Loser dies on the run, the bikers hold a vigil at a church. A pretty usual weekend, really. By the way, Nancy Sinatra is in the middle of everything, yes, it’s THE Nancy Sinatra, she plays Fonda’s girlfriend.
Yes, the film lives on stereotypes and clichés: the policeman shooting from the hospital balcony; a swastika flag on the club wall and the outlaws sitting underneath, with a baby, i.e. a real newborn, not the baby-baby; quiet, thoughtful walks through wind-beach-waves landscapes, again it’s Nancy Sinatra wandering around searchingly. But what more do you want? It is really nice for sure: shots of motorcycling on American mountain highways and listening to the sixties sound of “Midnight Rider” by The Hands of Time held for minutes; a wooden church in the middle of nowhere, in front of it innumerable parked Harleys and inside Peter Fonda in a leather jacket and sunglasses, crying out to the preacher, “The Lord never did nothing for the Loser … let me tell you something, mother, … life never let him alone to do whatever he wanted to do … but the Hells Angels … We don’t want nobody telling us what to do … We wanna be free … to ride machines, get loaded and we want a good time and that is what we are gonna do!” Bam, the church is taken apart, the drugs are being given out, the orgy begins. Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll at its best!
Those who are still not convinced: the orgy scene lasts 13 minutes and at the end Peter Fonda leads the funeral procession on his 1949 Harley Davidson Panhead Chopper.
Clichés? In 1967, the “Evangelische Pressedienst” (the Press Agency of the Protestant Church) wrote, also such a cliché, that the film “does not deserve a recommendation”. To put it in the words of Richard Nixon, John Lennon, Clark Gable, Harry S. Truman and even Robert Redford, “I don’t give a damn.”
If you need some more music to tune into the mood of the film, listen to this:
The Hands of Time – “Midnight Rider”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEKAtasRXCU
Davie Allan & The Arrows – “Devil’s Angels”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFQMLU3QuCQ
Watch the whole movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukuxbIqjGtg