Rush's film came second after Corman's Wild Angels in the late '60s biker-movie cycle, and like the earlier film was banned by the British censor. It now looks a real weirdie: notorious Angel Sonny Barger is credited as 'adviser'; the Oakland Angels feature; B movie directors Jack Starrett and Bruno VeSota have cameo parts; and Jack Nicholson - as a gas pump attendant called Poet who falls in with the road rats by accident - already possesses, fully-fledged, the cynical charm that made him a star. But nothing prepares you for the simple brutality of the film and its off-the-cuff style (it was shot in two weeks). The camera (Laszlo Kovacs) thunders in and out of the pack on dusty roads; barroom fights boast bottles and chains; and Nicholson's nervousness looks real. The whole project, in fact, with its violence and love interest (Nicholson fighting for the leader's 'momma') is schizophrenic, cutting from psychedelia and group sex to private angst and night-time stompings. Rush said that he found the whole bike phenomenon 'distasteful', and it shows in the uneven treatment. But who can resist a bike movie whose pack-leader, asked for a motive, resorts to Milton: 'It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.' Eat your heart out, Hunter Thompson.
Cast and crew
R Wright Campbell