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HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS (director/writer: Richard Rush; screenwriter: R. Wright Campbell; cinematographer: Laszlo Kovacs; editor: William Martin; music: Stu Phillips; cast: Adam Roarke (Buddy), Jack Nicholson (Poet), Sabrina Scharf (Shill), Jana Taylor (Abigale), John Garwood (Jocko), James Oliver (Gypsy), I. J. Jefferson (Pearl), Richard Anders (Bull); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Solomon; American International Pictures; 1967)
“Best feature was the photography by Laszlo Kovacs.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sonny Barger, president of the Hells Angels of Northern California, acted as technical adviser and gave the film his seal of approval. Richard Rush (“The Stunt Man”) directs this AIP cheapie biker flick that was made in two weeks during the heyday of such sleazy exploitation films in the 1960s–following Roger Corman’s Wild Angels. Lacking a suitable plot, saddled with banal dialogue and a cast that for the most part can’t act, the film seemed phony even though it sought to be authentic. It runs with its mindless road adventure tale of the Hell’s Angels having themselves some fun by getting into brawls, partying with group sex and psychedelic drugs, and upsetting squares along the way by causing traffic accidents and acting rowdy when passing through small-towns. But it’s not easy to totally dismiss such a raunchy and violent pic when the Hell’s Angels ruthless despotic leader Buddy (Adam Roarke) gleefully exclaims a Milton refrain to explain his rationale for living as an outlaw: “It’s better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

The action begins when the trouble-making gang motorcycles with their trademark Harley-Davidsons into some unnamed northern California small-town to flex their muscles. In an early role before becoming a box-office star Jack Nicholson plays a gas station attendant called Poet, who gets the sack after acting hostile to a rude customer. The Hell’s Angels are impressed with his spunk and he tags along with them on their wild ride to oblivion after he chips in to help them in a bar brawl and they repay the favor when they kill one of the four sailors who attacked him earlier in an amusement park.

On the road, the leader’s beautiful but warped girlfriend, Shill (Sabrina Scharf), comes on to Poet, and he wants a middle-class romance with her. But Shill enjoys being treated roughshod by the bikers and returns to Buddy as soon as he flicks his fingers. Poet is willing to fight for her love, but by the conclusion realizes he doesn’t have the mettle to be a true Angel.

The film’s best feature was the photography by Laszlo Kovacs of the roadsters taking over the roads as they trek along the dusty back roads in unison.

This cult film’s weird presentation of the brutal biker scene might be pleasing to some, but it failed to pull me into its sicko mindset.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”