The Existential and the Furious: Part 1: Easy Rider (1969)

Author’s Note: Yeah, we know you’ve seen them before and know them well. But we’ve got some movie “Easter Eggs” in these reviews. Thanks for revisiting the classics with the B&S gang, where we coddle the obscure and the forgotten films of the VHS, UHF, and Drive-In yesteryears.

While The Fast and the Furious franchise began as crime caper flicks that transitioned into spy flicks of the xXx variety, there’s no denying Universal Studios’ “big engine” is rooted in the rock ‘n’ hot-roddin’ juvenile delinquency flicks of the ’50 (we have a “Drive-In Friday” night this week covering a few of those films), the biker-centric counterculture flicks of the ’60s, and revin’-car flicks from the ’70s (reviews for a whole bunch o’ them this week!).

For long before the good intentions of Paul Walker’s LAPD officer Brian O’Conner’s law-enforcement soul was drugged with the scent well-weathered leather, hot metal and oil, and the scent of a Mitsubishi’s exhaust (R.I.P., Mr. Peart), Easy Rider was the godfather of them all—and that celluloid patriarch brought forth two sons. . . . And those sons were fruitful and multiplied with the ’70s “big engines” of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (also starring Peter Fonda) and Gone in 60 Seconds (no, not that one, the 1974 one!).

In between, there was this cop movie called Bullit that starred some guy named Steve McQueen toolin’ around in a 1968 Mustang Fastback going head-to-head with a 1968 440 Magnum Dodge Charger. And they slipped “The Duke” (of all people) into the cockpit of a souped-up 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am “Green Hornet” in McQ. But we were diggin’ Roy Scheider in his 1973 Pontiac Ventura Sprint in The Seven-Ups. And let us not forget: Producer Philip D’Antoni is the guru of rubber who gave us memorable car chase sequences in not only The Seven-Ups and Bullit, but The French Connection, as well. Then, for a twist, instead of a souped-up muscle car, Robert Blake slipped onto a 1970 Harley touring cycle for the “motorcycle cop” version of Easy Rider: 1973’s Electra Glide in Blue.

Released in 1969, Easy Rider became a counterculture epic that set the pace for the early ‘70s car chase classics to come: Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point (as well as Electra Glide in Blue)—regardless of the transportation and “mission” of their protagonists’ “trips,” each film equated the open road with freedom of the soul.

Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda, who became a biker icon courtesy of Roger Corman’s 1966 biker epic, The Wild Angels, and Dennis Hopper, who was able to get financing for his 1971 ego-boondoggle The Last Movie as result of Columbia Studios raking in $60 million worldwide on a $400,000 budget) embark on a western-without-horses motorcycle trip across America from California to New Orleans for a drug deal (instead of gold prospecting or stage coach robbing). Along the way to make their “big score” they meet up with communal hippies (in lieu of Indians), partake of drugs and sex, and frolic about New Orleans (in lieu of say, Dodge City, Kansas, or Virginia City, Nevada) in a Seinfeldian “a movie about nothing” existence (sorry, Sam; quoting my buddy Eric’s take on the movie)—and it all comes to an end by way of the ubiquitous, hippy-hatin’ rednecks (the Indians got ’em).

Jack Nicholson stars as Wyatt and Billy’s gold-football helmeted sidekick: ACLU lawyer and jail cellmate, George Hanson (the trio first collaborated on The Trip, Roger Corman’s 1967 stoner flick written by Nicholson; who did his own biker flick, 1967’s Rebel Rousers, which was released post-Easy Rider fame, in 1970), music Svengali Phil Spector (The Big T.N.T Show) stars as “The Connection,” and future MTV video queen Toni Basil (“Hey, Mickey!”) also appears in a minor role (she worked with Nicholson on the Monkees’ Head). The soundtrack—inspired by the successful use of pop and rock music for 1967’s The Graduate— features music by Steppenwolf (who also provided music to another psychedelic film, 1969’s Candy), the Band, the Byrds, and Jimi Hendrix.

You can watch this everywhere, pretty much, but it streams on Amazon Prime.

Ah, Easter Eggs: So, did you know Easy Rider was followed forty years later by an unofficial sequel? Two, in fact. It’s okay. No one does. Join us tomorrow at 12 noon and 3 pm for more tales of the fast and the furious . . . with Easy Rider: The Ride Back and Me & Will.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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