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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Angel Unchained (1970)

My notes on Angel Unchained (1970)

Angel (Don Stroud), a soulful biker who’s tired of his club’s roistering ways, quits the Exiles/Nomads ‘sickle gang’ and exchanges leathers for denim to join a dirt-scrabbling commune run by mild-mannered longhair Tremain (Luke Askew), settling down with hippie chick Merrilee (Tyne Daly). But the commune is repeatedly hassled by dune-buggy-riding, cowboy-hatted townies and haven’t got the skills to fight back, so Angel goes the Magnificent Seven route and calls in his old gang, now run by Pilot (Larry Bishop), to visit for a few days and run security. Naturally, the bikers act the way the Mexican farmers were afraid the Seven would – getting drunk, cutting up, stealing hallucinogenic cookies from an old Indian (Pedro Regas) and spending more time brawling with each other than the enemies. The three-way face-off is resolved, after the implied rape of a commune girl (Linda Smith) by some townies, when the locals attack en masse and hippies and bikers rally together to defend their patch. It takes the martyrdom of Tremain to ram home the biker-and-the-hippie-should-be-friends message, but it ends, like The Wild Angels, with a downbeat, contemplative moment. However, the film manages a few good stunts – especially a flying buggy colliding with a shack.

Director Lee Madden (The Night God Screamed) and screenwriter Jeffrey Alladin Fiskin (whose major credit is the masterpiece Cutter’s Way) don’t bring as much to the genre as Roger Corman in The Wild Angels or Joe Viola and Jonathan Demme in Angels Hard as They Come, and this has the further drawback of a weird brass-heavy score no real biker would put up with (plus horrible songs). Stroud, whose thinning hair gets whipped around a lot by the wind since he’s too cool to wear a crash helmet, is much less impressive as a good guy biker than he was as a villain in Coogan’s Bluff – which means the dry Bishop (later the director of Trigger Happy and a bit-player in Kill Bill, Vol 2), the foaming Bill McKinney (the ‘squeal like a pig, city boy’ man) and chubby-crazy Neil Moran (as ‘Magician’, a top-hatted biker with drugs in the pouches of his conjurer’s cape) upstage him all the time. In an unconventional bit, Shotgun (McKinney) puts rough moves on Merrilee, who sees him off easily, and then Angel steps in to protect his woman in a fight that destroys the cabbage field the commune depends on and which the seeming hero of this film loses flat down. Daly isn’t a typical movie flower-child, but – on the whole – the hippies in this film are more believable than the bikers or the rednecks. Bishop has a nice, underplayed scene with Aldo Ray as a calm Sheriff who isn’t unhappy to see the town bullies take a beating in the street.

As these things go, a bit tame – most of the plot-motivating violence takes place in fade-outs, and even the drug-taking turns out to involve a chocolate chip trip rather than something more exotic. It has the expected shots of a biker convoy cruising two-abreast along the open road.

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