Angels Hard as They Come (1971) - Now this is what I imagined a biker film to be all about, no bullshit kick you in the teeth violence and revenge for wrongs done. Its a simple but complex story about ego and courage that leaves the viewer knowing that bad guys get theirs and the good guys come out on top. Again like in Angel Unchained there is a duality here that goes beyond simple plot. The mix of hippie, peace and love and biker bad ass combine to talk about the duel nature of man and show that there is a need for both parts to be a compete person.
Written by Jonathan Demme, the director of such films as Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, and The Silence of the Lambs, I had no idea he had an early career in genre movie writing. He penned several of these films in the early seventies, including this film as well as Black Mama, White Mama (1973) and Caged Heat (1974). In this film Demme takes the ideas of the outsider and tunes it to possible comment on the duality of man. In this film we have three basic groups, The Biker heroes are the Angels, who because they are bikers are not great people. They are drug dealing lowlifes, no doubt, but there is a code of honor. They are outsiders to society and law but have an internal structure about how outsiders interact with each other. You have a group of hippies who are all about acceptance and love. Nonviolent they are outsiders to society. Because they are not aggressive are victims to other outsiders who are more violent. Then we have the Dragons who are representation of chaos, they are the ultimate outsiders the part of man that can be moved to evil deeds just because no one can stop them. The three group come together at an old west ghost town to pay out a drama of good versus evil.
Long John (Scott Glenn) is in the Angels biker gang. A group of criminal bikers doing drug deals in the desert. The group is careful and able to avoid the police at every turn and tough. To establish this we see the buyer in the fancy care call John Long "kid" and receive the reply. "Call me kid again and I'm going to kick your balls up to your ears.". After working at his own crimes runs into a couple bikers from another biker gang, the Dragons, Magic (Steve Slauson) and Brain (Brendan Kelly) who are partying out at a ghost town with a small group of hippies. They invite Long John, Monk (James Iglehart) and Juicer (Don Carerra) out to the town for a bit of partying, wine women and weed as Brain says. Since the trio has a couple days before they are supposed to meet the rest of their gang they agree and head out. There is a seeming brotherhood among the bad in this world.
Now there are three kinds of outsiders in this film, the hippies which include Henry (a young Gary Busey), Vicki (Janet Wood) and Astrid (Glinda Texter) who are free love peace lovers. They represent the higher ideal that people strive for. There are several conversations they have where they try to get the bikers to talk about their feelings. To encapsulate in words what it means to be a biker, free in a world of rules. They are non-conformist in society to but would be very willing to live and let live. Unfortunately for them the Dragons happened upon them living in the ghost town. Taking a key part of the van they are driving they are to be the night's entertainment. They unfortunately are victims in this film.
The Angels are tough guys who are confident in their abilities. They are hard asses no doubt but see the biker gangs as a community that can have different outfit coexist. John Long is a not only tough as nails but can ride his bike too. He proves this shortly after arriving in the town when the leader of the Dragons. They race their choppers and John wins, the leaders of the dragons does not take losing well. John Long takes an interest in Astrid and when that night a couple Dragons, including their leader decide she will be there sex play thing the higher functioning Angels come to the rescue with dire consequences. Astrid is killed in the fight and the Angels are the ones who are blamed even though none of them carry a knife. They have the honor enough to defend a woman from rape even though they are not the nicest guys in the world.
The Dragons are encapsulated by there leader, the General (Charles Dierkop). An egomaniac who is a biker to feel bigger and stronger and leader because he is nothing but spit and vinegar. He is the bully who has found that niche where his bullying can flourish. He is the base evil men can move to when they are not mature enough to handle internal feeling but instead have to act everything out in violent cruel ways. When the girl is killed the General sees this as a way to show his power. He has a mock trial and the Angels are convicted easily as the mob of the Dragons bike gang is judge and jury.
Most of the rest of the movie is the torture of the Angels and their attempts to escape. The General wants his fun, to show what a big guy he is. He wants to humiliate the Angels and then in the end to kill them. When one of the three doomed bikers does get away it is just a matter of time before the full Angels games make it back to save their friends. The tension comes from the timing, will they get there in time to save their friends?
The strength of the film is the contrast between the groups although the outcome is really inevitable. Still I think this is a good representation of the genre and deserves a look. Its a shame the print I saw on Amazon Prime instant watch was such poor quality. Many of the night and indoor scenes were just too dark.