Before EASY RIDER became the most respected independent film of its era, each of its three leading men had starring roles in biker films under their belt. Peter Fonda of course was in Roger Corman’s THE WILD ANGELS, Jack Nicholson was in HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS (REBEL ROUSERS was shot in ’67 but not released until ’70) and the late, great Dennis Hopper was in THE GLORY STOMPERS, now making its U.S. DVD debut as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
The Black Souls are your usual bunch of unruly riders, lead by one Chino (Hopper, also rumored to have partially directed), who sports Roger McGuinn granny sunglasses and Nazi paraphernalia on his sleeveless denim jacket. The Black Souls crash the shindig of a comparatively civilized rival gang, The Stompers, as Chino makes the moves on classy blonde Chris (Chris Noel, BEACH BALL), who happens to be the old lady of Stomper Darryl (Jody McCrea). He Chino and his unwashed brethren to take a hike. Some time later at a forest clearing, Chris tells Darryl that she loves him but wants a better life, away from his traveling pack of overgrown delinquents. Before he even has time for a rebuttal, Chino and his gang ambush the young couple, leave Darryl for dead (an accident) and decide to kidnap Chris and sell her off to some Mexicans for $1000. They keep her tied up, use her as a plaything, and do some balling, boozing, and babbling about a better life in the process. But Darryl, who is actually alive and well after being knocked unconscious, wastes no time tracking The Souls down, enlisting the help of veteran rider named Smiley (former Tarzan Jock Mahoney, THE LAND UNKNOWN), the ex vice president of another chapter of Stompers. He wants his woman back, and he wants revenge!
Shot independently for reportedly under $100,000, THE GLORY STOMPERS was picked up and released by American International Pictures (AIP) to rewarding box office receipts in early 1968. It’s shoddy production values are at least overcome by the widescreen cinematography, with the entire production being shot outdoors, making the film play out like a kind of surreal biker western, as it seems to have created its own little open-air world where men and their hogs rule the land without authority. THE GLORY STOMPERS is one those films where you can presume there wasn’t more than one take for most of its shots, the results being a string of scenes involving riding, chasing, partying and brawling. So the advantage of fast paced, rousing action with an added dose of blood is all brought together to ingeniously take up 80 something minutes of late 1960s drive-in screen time, and for that, the film succeeds. Forget the undeserved “BOMB” rating found in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (what do those stuffy critics and their silly “star” ratings know anyhow?), this is an essential motorcycle picture, presented by the company that put the genre on the map.
At this time, Hopper (who had just been in Roger Corman’s THE TRIP opposite Peter Fonda), was starting to embrace the counterculture in a big way here, and his persona in this film is a sort of a preparation for his EASY RIDER character (in terms of appearance and speech). You could have fun creating a drinking a game based around the number of times he says “man” during the course of the picture! McCrea (son of Hollywood legend Joel McCrea) had just finished playing the goofy Deadhead/Bonehead in a successive string of AIP “Beach Party” flicks, and this was one of the last things he ever appeared in. He pretty much retired from films after producing and starring in the violent western CRY BLOODY APACHE in 1970, making only a few appearances afterwards, and he passed away in 2008. Casey Kasem (Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars") as a freaky, bearded clown called Mouth (perhaps this was the original inspiration for Scooby Doo's pal, Shaggy, for which he supplied the voice for?). Kasem also served as one of the associate producers along with Paul Stevenson and Mike Curb (who also contributed to the film’s fuzz guitar score by Dave Allen and The Arrows). Bing Crosby's son Lindsay (brother Gary put up the film’s financing) plays another Black Soul and Robert Tessier (onetime "Mr. Clean" on TV and an actor who usually plays the bald guy in biker films) is a strangely-haired, one-eyed vagabond named Magoo! Sandra Bettin (here billed as “Sondra Gale”) plays Chino’s neglected, raven-haired mama, and she also appeared in another AIP biker romp, ANGELS FROM HELL, released the same year.
With a script by James Gordon White and John Lawrence, THE GLORY STOMPERS was directed by Anthony M. Lanza, who later helmed AIP’s essential drive-in monster mash, THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT (which also featured Kasem in a more prominent role). Lanza mostly worked as an editor, directing only one other feature (the talk show spoof, THE IRV CARLSON SHOW), but his two contributions to drive-in cinema make him a significant player in the world of exploitation films. It’s interesting to note that after EASY RIDER became a huge success in 1969, AIP repackaged THE WILD ANGELS, HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS and THE GLORY STOMPERS as a triple drive-in bill package capitalizing on the names of Fonda, Nicholson and Hopper.
First released on VHS back in the 1980s by Trylon Video, MGM re-released THE GLORY STOMPERS about a decade ago as part of a series of generic-covered video cassettes available exclusively through Amazon. Needless to say, both these presentations were full screen, and a few years ago, it got released in all its widescreen glory as an anamorphic Japanese DVD from a company called King Records. Since hardly anyone got a hold of that import, its nice to know that the same nice transfer was used for MGM’s new manufactured-on-demand DVD, released here as part of its Limited Edition Collection. Complete with an Orion logo at the beginning, the film has been remastered in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, with colors looking stable, detail being sharp with a bit of grain in tow, and only some scattered debris in the source print. The mono English audio has a few muffled parts (which seem to just be some technical issues due to the original production), but the music is given a distinct boost in the mix. No trailer or chapter stops are included, but the viewer can move ahead at ten-minute intervals throughout the presentation. (George R. Reis)
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