HELL'S ANGELS '69 (1969)
Director: Lee Madden
Media Blasters/Guilty Pleasures

By 1969, actor Jeremy Slate had already starred in a slew of biker films that included THE BORN LOSERS, THE MIN-SKIRT MOB and HELL'S BELLES, while actor Tom Stern had the starring role in one, ANGELS FROM HELL. Here the two of them joined forces to star together and write the story, and Stern produced the project. Like the aforementioned titles, HELL'S ANGEL'S '69 was released by American International Pictures and unleashed to drive-in theaters everywhere the same year that the exemplary EASY RIDER was released. It may not be the best motorcycle picture, but it certainly is unique and entertaining if you are a fan of that genre.

The film blends the usual biker film exploits with a plot that involves a Vegas casino heist. Slate plays the elder Wes and Stem the younger Chuck, two wealthy playboy half-brothers with an unusual love of danger. The two pose as Boston bikers who call themselves "Salem Witches" who get mingled in with a bunch of Oakland Hell's Angels who hesitantly allow them to temporarily tag along. After a few brawls, violent stunts and a lot of verbal hostility, the two outsiders convince the Angels to ride out to Las Vegas. On a bet with them, the duo checks into Caesar's Palace and then coerce the Angels into causing a minor riot outside the hotel doors. It's all part of a scheme they've devised to nab $600,000 from the casino while disguised as clean cut, business-like pedestrians. They are able to flee with the loot (which they intend on returning!), but former Angels' mama Betsy (Connie Van Dyke), who has already shacked up with both brothers, has discovered Wes' and Chuck's felonious feat, and they are now forced to take her along with them. The local sheriff (G.D. Spradlin from THE GODFATHER PART II) and the rest of the police force waste no time, and our two embezzlers are immediately suspected. The Angels are questioned about the whereabouts of the two loners, and soon realize that they were used as pawns without reaping any of the cash jackpot. Now it's time to get revenge, and the Angels hunt down the bickering Wes, Chuck and Bonnie in the dry desert mountains.

HELL'S ANGELS '69 is the kind of film that grows on you after repeated viewings. The story is pretty original, although it would have been great to have seen more attention given to the incidents involved in the planning of the heist. Slate and Stern obviously don't have the star power of the likes of Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper, but they're capable actors who are able to carry the film, and Connie Van Dyke makes a good strong and sensitive leading lady. This film also has starring performances (with significant dialog) by real Oakland Hell's Angels, including chapter president Sonny Barger, Terry the Tramp, Skip and Magoo. These guys will win no acting awards, but their presence gives the film authenticity, as they are basically playing themselves. The hairy, beer-guzzling Terry the Tramp (who died shortly after the film was made) is particularly fascinating, as the original boyfriend of Betsy (he sells her to Wes for an open pack of cigarettes which he ditches), always getting ticked off in a second's notice and constantly looking for trouble. He actually delivers his lines as good as anyone else. Director Madden (who didn't have much of a career after the 1970s) also directed ANGEL UNCHAINED the following year.

Media Blasters has released this AIP biker film on DVD under their "Guilty Pleasures" label. Unfortunately, the transfer is full frame open matte, lacking the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, as well as lacking possible anamorphic enhancement. It appears to be the same master that was used on the Media and Anchor Bay VHS releases, as well as the recent Japanese DVD from King Records. The image is still fairly good, with strong colors and clarity. There is some grain, as well as some overly dark scenes. The mono Dolby Digital audio track is excellent, with music and dialog both booming clear as day.

Film critic Joe Bob Briggs gives an onscreen video introduction, and also supplies a running commentary. Laced with a sense of humor, the commentary gives a lot of information on biker films, but it runs out of steam as he reads off too many facts and listings from the Internet Movie Database, as well as getting over-critical and overzealous about various scenes in the movie. There is also a brief video interview with star Conny Van Dyke, the former Motown-label singer who also made several movies and a lot of TV appearances. She apparently had an enjoyable time making the moving, sharing a few Hell's Angels stories, and saying that she still speaks to Sonny Barger and his wife. There is also a Conny Van Dyke still gallery, the original AIP trailer for the film, as well as trailers for other Guilty Pleasures releases. An Easter Egg on the extras menu will play the original trailer in French! A booklet is enclosed with liner notes by Mike Weatherford, who wrote a book on Las Vegas movies. The back of the booklet also reveals that coming soon from Guilty Pleasures is a DVD release of RUN, ANGEL RUN starring the great William Smith! (George R. Reis)