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BEFORE 'EASY RIDER' WAS ROGER CORMAN'S 'THE WILD ANGELS'

Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra in THE WILD ANGELS Year: 1966 Rating: ****

Roger Corman's THE WILD ANGELS was the most significant precursor and overall impetus for EASY RIDER even beyond starring this film's star Peter Fonda... herein with born-to-lose Loser Bruce Dern foreshadowing Dennis Hopper as the faithful shaggy sidekick, and — like the 1969 cult classic that changed how studios backed avante-garde, independent directors — supped-up motorcycles were in the forefront...

As WILD begins with Fonda, his bike parked, aimed at the open road that, soon enough during the opening credits, he's smoothy cruising down, even before his gang — also including Michael J. Pollard, Fonda's love-interest Nancy Sinatra and Dern's scene-stealing fictional and non-fictional wife Diane Ladd — join in on the ride... but only after picking Dern up from a rugged rigging job that coincidentally resembles the EASY RIDER followup FIVE EASY PIECES (with Corman stock-favorite Dick Miller as a bickering boss)... 

Peter Fonda in THE WILD ANGELS

What truly sets EASY RIDER apart is the wall-to-wall classic-tune soundtrack from that era, sadly missing here and — in Corman's money-saving fashion — replaced with cheesy instrumentals: leaving what's important solely to the characters, actually more fleshed-out and realistic than other violently marauding, cliche biker flicks (like HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS, SATAN'S SADISTS. THE SAVAGE SEVEN, THE CYCLE SAVAGES, THE REBEL ROUSERS)... 

And WILD ANGELS only exceeds EASY RIDER in Peter Fonda's leading performance: instead of a calm, cool and collected masthead representation of the hippie era (letting Dennis Hopper do all the actual dialogue-spouting work), he's cursed with a stubborn, chip-on-the-shoulder yet equally vulnerable human edge, painfully contrasting with surrounding mundane types, from suburbanites to the police — the latter shown as antagonistic outlaws equal to a Western, in which ANGELS is... again, like RIDER... a mechanical, motorcycle-riding version of...

Bruce Dern in THE WILD ANGELS

With a deliberately sparse plot, other than Bruce Dern... at the end of act one... almost fatally shot by lawmen in a mountainside chase — then taken to a hospital, kidnapped by his gang, and brought back to a shabby pool-hall tavern more palpably lived-in than studio-contrived — as Dern's corpse inspires the gang into a different kind of town-takeover: their goal not to wreak havoc but intensely celebrate living and dying, on their terms without anyone stopping the bizarre (and sometimes counter-culture-preachy) mobile memorial...

As director, Roger Corman always made a better producer while shepherding future auteurs (like here with Peter Bogdanovich as interning assistant director): but THE WILD ANGELS is one of his most unique features, using creative camera angles befitting either rolling action or hanging out in-between, and is overall more a slowburn journey than raucous adventure: that deliberately regresses into an inevitably existential purgatory that — throughout the good times or bad — is apparent (and tragically inevitable) all along.

Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra in THE WILD ANGELS
Poolhall Hangout from THE WILD ANGELS
Veteran actor Art Baker with a dead Bruce Dern in THE WILD ANGELS
Diane Ladd with Peter Fonda in THE WILD ANGELS
Peter Fonda and Michael J. Pollard in THE WILD ANGELS
Kim Hamilton in THE WILD ANGELS
Kim Hamilton in THE WILD ANGELS
Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern in THE WILD ANGELS
Diane Ladd and Nancy Sinatra in THE WILD ANGELS
Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra in THE WILD ANGELS
Peter Fonda and Mr Majestyk police chief Frank Maxwell in THE WILD ANGELS
Gayle Hunnicutt in THE WILD ANGELS
Gayle Hunnicutt
Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern in THE WILD ANGELS
Peter Fonda in THE WILD ANGELS
From THE WILD ANGELS
Gayle Hunnicutt in THE WILD ANGELS

Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern in THE WILD ANGELS
Co-Director Peter Bogdanovich in THE WILD ANGELS
Nancy Sinatra in THE WILD ANGELS

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