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Hell's Angels On Wheels
cast: Jack Nicholson, Adam Roarke, Sabrina Scharf, Jack Starrett, and Sonny Barger

director: Richard Rush

96 minutes (18) 1967 MIA retail
Also available to buy on DVD

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian Shutter
The only reason - well, the only compelling reason - for watching this terribly dated, low-budget biker movie today is to checkout an early role for superstar icon Jack Nicholson. He plays an outsider named Poet, entangled in the belligerence and unfocused rebellion of California's infamous motorcycle club. Adam Roarke stars as leader of the pack, Buddy, but the film belongs to Nicholson.
   It starts when one of the Hell's Angels damages Poet's bike. Buddy promises to fix it, but first there's a bar-fight with a rival gang and a visit to a funfair, where four sailors waylay Poet and beat him up. After a payback rumble leaves one of the ratings dead, the gang scram to kooky brunette Shill's flat for shag-a-thon, smoking pot, and frolicsome painting on the bodies of half-naked girls. Local cops, rightly suspicious of Buddy's involvement in the seaman's murder, roust the raucous party, and to evade further harassment the whole gang ride to Nevada for a beer-swilling member's wedding.
   Poet's initiation ceremony, a brawl at a motel intercut with the couple on their marriage bed, comedy-action of stunt riding and police escorting these wild boys through and out of a small town ("You just watch all those plain citizens standing around with their mouths open and their eyes popping."), a stopover for sporty hill-climb scrambling, are other notable scenes. But the main dramas occur when a drunken biker runs an old driver off the highway, unknowingly causing another fatality, and Poet gets into a fight-to-the-death with Buddy. There are some fairly amusing moments (the sheep chasing scene is endearingly silly), but Stu Phillips' relentlessly upbeat 'happy' music (anticipating the mood of flower power?) seems inappropriate, now, especially considering the tragic ending.
   In all honesty, I think Dennis Hopper's later Easy Rider is far superior to this, but whereas that film has become iconic of 1960s' road trip wanderlust, this one is less celebrated as a biker movie, and so arguably more cultworthy.
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