Director: Jack Starrett
Dark Sky Films/MPI

Exploitation producer Joe Solomon, founder of the independent drive-in outfit The Fanfare Corporation, specialized in motorcycle pictures such as HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967), ANGELS FROM HELL (1968), RUN, ANGEL, RUN (1969) and WILD WHEELS (1969). By the time the ground-breaking EASY RIDER was unleashed in ’69, it seemed that the cycle movies had exhausted every possible narrative, even though they continued to ride across the big screen. THE LOSERS (aka NAM’S ANGELS) relocates a clan of outcast bikers to the late 1960s Vietnam battlefields in a sort of take off on THE DIRTY DOZEN, and the formula works for the most part, so even those not partial to the biker genre might want to give this energetic action entry a look.

In the midst of the Vietnam War, members of the biker gang “The Devil’s Advocates” are hired and flown in by the CIA for a rescue mission in Cambodia, as U.S. troops are not allow to enter its border. Denim-garbed and longhaired, leader Link (William Smith), Duke (Adam Roarke), Dirty Denny (Houston Savage), Speed (Eugene Cornelius) and Limpy (Paul Koslo) are set to enter a Communist China camp and bring back presidential advisor Chet Davis, someone who Link has a past history of hatred for. In order to prepare for the perilous assignment, they have to turn their hogs (their given Yamahas rather than the more manly Harleys) into custom war machines, wallowing in the usual brawling, boozing and womanizing beforehand.

William Smith and the late Adam Roarke were by far the two actors most associated with motorcycle movies (this is the only film they did together), and THE LOSERS gives both these familiar character actors a much different surrounding (far from the freeways of San Francisco) and a bit more depth and humanity to their characters than in the usual biker fare. The wild behavior here is mostly given to Houston Savage, stealing scenes as he wreaks havoc in a whorehouse, brawls with everyone in sight, and upchucks his beer. Paul Koslo (THE OMEGA MAN) lends good character support as the wisecracking Limpy (named for his handicap), and Bernie Hamilton (“Starsky and Hutch”) is the no-nonsense captain who strives to keep the unkempt bikers in order.

The Philippines provides a scenic backdrop, easily substituting for war-torn Vietnam (the instant giveaway being the presence of Philippine cinema staple Vic Diaz as a character named Diem-Nuc). The late Jack Starrett (who also makes a memorable appearance as the imprisoned Chet Davis) definitely knew how to handle these types of action/exploitation efforts (ever see SLAUGHER or RACE WITH THE DEVIL for example?), as this is stacked with explosive combat scenes, remarkable stunt work, the standard doses of sex and violence, and an underlying compassion for its characters. THE LOSERS is not earth-shattering stuff or even the ultimate biker epic for that matter; it’s above average drive-in fodder with a social conscious regarding the horrors of war.

Dark Sky Films presents THE LOSERS in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. This is a very nice-looking transfer, probably the best the film has ever looked, with nice bright colors, sharp detail, and only minor speckling on the source print. The Dolby Digital mono audio is strong for the most part, with some slight background hiss from time to time. Optional English subtitles are included.

An audio commentary is included with actors William Smith and Paul Koslo, along with moderator Todd Wieneke. The commentary is entertaining enough, as mostly held together by Koslo. He remembers a lot about making the film, as Smith’s memory seems a bit fuzzy on this particular one, but he does recall that Joe Solomon told him the budget was $275,000. Koslo has a lot of interesting things to say, including that the crew went on strike for a short time when they weren’t getting paid, and points out specific scenes where he improvised dialogue. Other extras include a brief still gallery, trailers for THE LOSERS and WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, and two original radio spots. (George R. Reis)