The Wild Angels earned $7 million on a budget of $360,000, making it the highest-grossing low-budget film of its era. Not bad for a movie that had script issues between Roger Corman and Charles B. Griffith, as well as numerous re-writes by Peter Bogdanovich. Plus, the US State Department tried to prevent the film from being shown in Venice on the grounds that it “did not show America the way it is.”
And yet the Hells Angels brought a $5 million defamation lawsuit against Corman for how they were portrayed in this movie, which really makes me want to be a biker. Maybe they didn’t notice while they were acting as extras, each getting paid $35 per day for their cooperation and $20 per day for their motorcycles.
It’s also the first movie that Peter Fonda would be associated with the counter-culture and motorcycles. While promoting The Trip and autographing astill from this movie showing he and Bruce Dern on one motorcycle, the actor came up with the concept for Easy Rider.
It’s also a movie packed with taglines that shove you into the theater like “
Heavenly Blues (Fonda) shouts, “We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride! We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we’re gonna do. We are gonna have a good time. We are gonna have a party.” That opening is at the beginning of Primal Scream’s “Loaded,” which informs so much of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End.
This episodic film moves from trying to find Joe “Loser” Kearns’ (Dern) stolen motorcycle to the gang evading the police to plan the Loser’s funeral and how Blues, Loser’s girl Gayesh (Diane Ladd) and Blues’ lover Mike (Nancy Sinatra) are pulled along as the gang disintegrates as a final party descends into madness.
The close of this movie, as Blues shovels dirt onto the grave of his best friend and says, “There’s nowhere to go,” is exactly why I keep coming back to Corman movies, which have such a heart and something to say in the midst of the mayhem and carny edge that get you into the theater.
We also have this movie to thank for Laura Dern, as the daughter of Dern and Ladd was conceived while this movie was being made.