These old biker gang flicks are hilarious. They use as a subject one of their time’s silliest moral panics — rampaging biker gangs are coming for you! — but then make an extreme effort to avoid the use of profanity. Today’s film, Naked Angels, was released in 1969. That’s well past the time when blood, gore, and nudity had become commonplace in movies made for grownups, yet the harshest word Bruce D. Clark and Marc Siegler could muster for their screenplay was ‘bitch.’ By my count, ‘bitch’ was said five times in this film, while viewers were treated to no less than six exposed breasts. Contrast that with something like Goodfellas, which had 300 ‘fucks’ and all its derivations, plus all the other profanity, but only the briefest of glances at a single nipple. What conclusions can we draw from this? Had Naked Angel gone with 1,800 ‘fucks’ to balance out its breasts, it could have had an Oscar nomination.
Directed by Clark, Naked Angels was financed by Roger Corman, just prior to his formation of New World Pictures. This was around the time when Corman had basically thrown in the towel on quality, and would shoestring a project in the hopes of a high return. It shows.
The film follows the titular gang from California after their leader, Mother (Michael Greene, who has had a long career in Hollywood), is released from an extended stay in the hospital. He ended up there care of a rival gang from Las Vegas. Mother, after he regains leadership of the Angels from second-in-command Fingers (Ruchard Rust), hatches a plan to travel to Vegas so the Angels can get their revenge.
The gang loads up, bikes, old ladies, and all, and heads off to Vegas, where viewers are treated to a montage of contemporary nightlife in downtown Las Vegas. It’s an interesting snapshot of a city that is constantly in flux, but we didn’t tune in just to watch Mother and company troll Fremont Street.
The Angels find a solitary member of the Vegas gang, and learn that the rest are on a run to an abandoned mine in the middle of the desert. So, off the Angels go, into THE WORST ROAD TRIP IN THE WORLD.
Seriously, the road trip portion of this film is an unpleasant affair, for the Angels, the cast members who played them, and for the viewers. The trip to the mine takes up the bulk of the film, and consists mostly of hardtail choppers riding on rough dirt roads, with occasional Angels crashing. It looked as if it was a miserable filming experience, with the cast eating dust all day in the desert. This being the late 1960s, before the Vegas area exploded outwards into the desert, downtown Vegas could have been a half mile away if Clark turned the cameras around, but that doesn’t change the fact he made his cast ride back and forth on these awful roads in blazing sunlight. They didn’t look to be acting when their characters stopped to complain.
As for those characters the hardy cast members played, they have a falling out with Mother because none of them thought to bring water or extra gasoline, so the movie splits into two road trips through the desert. This middle act goes on and on and on in a failed attempt to disguise a very thin screenplay. It’s all ride, stop, complain, speak in forced biker/youth slang, then ride some more. The only highlight is when Mother gets heatstroke and starts hallucinating.
Finally, viewers get their promised rumble between the Angels and the Vegas gang, filmed at an actual abandoned mine somewhere in the desert. The rumble is the shitty payoff for having to endure the long middle of this dog, and, in its ineptness, it does deliver some much-deserved schadenfreude, as it’s mostly just filthy, skinny bikers rolling around in the dirt. But, it’s not enough to offset what viewers have had to sit through.
Stupid dialogue, stupid plot, shameless padding of the running time. The ingredients were there for a much better shitty movie experience, but Clark and company failed to deliver. One notable thing about this film is that it is the debut of Penelope Spheeris, who played one of the Angels’ old ladies. She has since gone on to a very successful career directing documentaries, most notably the classic Los Angeles hardcore punk documentary The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. That, and Wayne’s World.
The other notable aspect is one of the film’s composers was Jeff Simmons, who went on to play bass for The Mothers of Invention for a couple of years, before he quit the band in the middle of filming 200 Motels. The soundtrack won’t light anyone’s hair on fire, but it will make one sick of fuzz guitar.
Watch it for dialogue, watch it for the gas station attendant who gives a gun barrel a handy, watch it for Penelope Spheeris smoking grass, or don’t watch it at all, because Naked Angels falls way down the Watchability Index, displacing the execrable Eye See You at #244.