Motorcycle Movies, Part 1: The Wild Angels
In 1966, the widening generation gap was about to split the country wide open. The older generation who had lived through and fought World War II could neither understand nor relate to their freethinking, “flower power” children. As everyone knows, misunderstanding can quickly change to fear, and certain filmmakers played off that fear by creating motorcycle movies like “The Wild Angels”.
The Wild Angels wasn’t a cult film or a fringe independent by any means. By the mid 1960s, producer Samuel Z. Arkoff had already established himself and his company, American International Pictures, as the leading purveyor of youth culture flicks. The “Beach Party” movies with Frankie & Annette and a number of other flicks containing the word “bikini” in their titles were cranked out by Arkoff’s studio. Director Roger Corman, himself no stranger to the “schlock shock” genre, cut his teeth on drive-in delights like 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors” and a string of classic frighteners starring the venerable English actor Vincent Price. Arkoff and Corman often worked together on the same film, one forgettable example being 1957’s “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent”. I kid you not.
For The Wild Angels, Roger Corman chose the children of American icons Henry Fonda and Frank Sinatra as his stars, perhaps to accentuate the sharp division between the older and newer generations. Peter Fonda plays the leader of a California Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and Nancy Sinatra plays the part of his girl. Other actors in the film who were little known at the time but later blossomed as mainstream actors and actresses include Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd and Michael J. Pollard. It’s an interesting bit of trivia to note that Dern and Ladd, whose on-set romance would lead to marriage, are the parents of actress Laura Dern.
The film itself is interesting for many reasons, not least the great scenic shots of mid-1960s southern California as Fonda and his gang roar up and down the coastal highways and byways. The powerful soundtrack by Davie Allen and the Arrows was a precursor of a style that would be called Heavy metal in the future. Then there are the bikes… vintage Harleys and other makes long gone from the road. Fans of those mean machines won’t be disappointed by The Wild Angels, and my guess is neither will you!