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The Wild Angels (1966) - Blu-ray Review

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The Wild Angels - Blu-ray Review

4 stars

Roger Corman, famed producer and director of exploitation cinema from the 1950s through the early 1980s, captures the very essence of the biker counterculture years before Easy Rider would the be the be all and end all of the genre.  Hindered by B-movie trappings and some embellishments, The Wild Angels can actually be read as the film accurately predicting the downfall of Hells Angels and the other members of the leather-clad 1% and the reasons for it.  Was this Corman’s intent?  Hard to say.  He was, after all, more about giving the people what they wanted instead of what they needed.   In the heyday of the drive-in, Roger Corman was king. 

Embittered by his experience working with 20th Century Fox on The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and weary of the Poe films for American International Pictures, Corman was in dire need of inspiration for his next production.  He found it in Life magazine, which featured a photo of the funeral of Mother Miles, head of the Sacramento, California, Hell's Angels.  From this picture came both The Wild Angels and the biker-movie genre itself.  Peter Fonda, who replaced George Chakiris, stars as brooding Angels chieftain Heavenly Blues.  When his pal Loser (Bruce Dern) is shot by the police, Blues attempts to bury him in a small town, but the locals resist, and a brawl ensues (a brawl that featured real Hells Angels members when they saw the scene and decided to help a fellow biker gang out).  Also starring Nancy Sinatra (who later renounced her role in the film), Diane Ladd, Gayle Hunnicutt, Joan Shawleeand, Buck Taylor, and Norman Alden, The Wild Angels is a case of arrested development upon two wheels.

Filmed in Mecca, Idyllwild and Palm Desert, California, the expansive and arid locations in The Wild Angels echo the alienation Blues feels after the death of his best friend.  His girlfriend realizes the change that's come over him, "it's like a piece of you went with him" she says to his face several times.  He reviews his life and sees it empty, without purpose.  The Loser was his only lifeline to the gang.  He stays to bury his friend while others flee The Man.  They go on to continue the life of carousing and hell-raising – after a fairly nihilistic orgy in a church – while Blues follows through on a duty to a friend, and buries him, as well as his life with the gang.

Audiences and critics were alternately appalled and thrilled by the extensive drug use and violence, but beneath Angels' leathery hide beats the heart of a Western, especially in its ruminations on personal freedom.  Charles Griffith's script (co-written by Peter Bogdanovich, who also cameos in the film and is the second unit director) helped make the film the sole U.S. entry for the 1966 Venice Film Festival, which irked the State Department enough to try and revoke the honor.   Corman's direction, freed from AIP's period pieces, is lean and exuberantly active, aided by Monte Hellman's editing.  Don’t see it?  Study the opening shots along Venice, California.  There is a serious genius at work as a child is blocked by freedom with a motorcycle’s tire. 

The Wild Angels helped give Fonda the counterculture clout to later make Easy Rider, and boosted the careers of Dern and then-wife Diane Ladd.  Mike Curb's score features Davie Allan and the Arrows' fuzz-tone-soaked hit "Blues' Theme" and continues to be engaging in spire of its era-heavy inspirations. It is finally available on blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films.  Yes, it’s cheesy.  Yes, it’s grizzly.  Yes, it’s a must-see.  The Wild Angels is as convincing as Corman gets.

One toke over the line indeed.

The Wild Angels - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R for drug-related material.
Runtime:
93 mins
Director
: Roger Corman
Writer: Charles B. Griffith
Cast:
Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern
Genre
: Action | Thriller
Tagline:
The most terrifying film of your time!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Hey, don't get none of that on me!"
Distributor:
American International Pictures (AIP)
Official Site:
Release Date:
July 20, 1966
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 17, 2015
Synopsis: Peter Fonda plays 'Heavenly Blues', the leader of Hell's Angels chapter from Venice, California while Bruce Dern plays 'Loser', his best pal. When they both botch their attempt to retrieve Loser's stolen bike, Loser ends up in the hospital. When the Angels bust him out, he dies, and they bury him. Nancy Sinatra plays Mike, Blues' "old lady" and Diane Ladd plays Loser's wife (Dern's real-life wife at the time). The plot is basically a buildup to the last half-hour of the film in which Loser's funeral becomes another wild party.

The Wild Angels - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 17, 2015
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

First released on DVD in 2001 as part of MGM’s “Midnite Movies” series (when it was presented on home video in widescreen for the first time) and then in 2004 on a double feature with another AIP biker movie, Hell’s Belles, The Wild Angels now arrives on Blu-ray in 1080p HD preserving the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  A noticeably vast improvement over the standard DVD, Olive Film’s HD transfer has superb detail and bright colors with a good amount of pop to them.  The elements show some speckle from time to time, and a few brief scenes are a tad soft, but this looks to be inherent of the original cinematography.  It doesn’t appear that the picture has been tweaked or modified in any way, and the grain structure is well maintained.  The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio track is fairly strong, delivering the dialogue and the guitar and drum driven score with nice clarity. 

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

None

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