Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Devil's Angels

Devil's Angels
D: Daniel Haller

Claim to fame: The John Cassavetes one; produced by Roger Corman

MC president looks to hold his club together and true to itself, despite threats both from without and within.

Sort of a follow-up to "The Wild Angels," with respected actor John Cassavetes and future starlet (they hoped) Beverly Adams in Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra type roles. The plot here takes a few twists and turns; it's less a single storyline and more a character study of Cody (Cassavetes), leader of the motorcycle club the Skulls.
The Skulls, we learn, were once a mighty MC with hundreds of members, but now just over a couple dozen remain. They're tolerated in their home town, though that changes when member Gage (Buck Taylor) accidentally runs down a citizen while fleeing police. Inspired by Gage's tales of Butch and Sundance's Hole-in-the-Wall, Cody takes the club in the wind, in search of just such a place that they can call their own.
They find the first town they stop at less than accomodating. Cody and Lynn stop at a campground to rent some space and are turned away; meanwhile, the rest of the boys check out the town fair and do not impress the local citizenry. To keep the peace, the tough but fair sheriff (Leo Gordon) makes a deal with Cody: He'll get them space at the campground, provided they stay out of town and leave in the morning --and if there's any trouble, Cody will be held personally responsible. The parties agree, though both deal with negative reaction. The men of the town, led by Royce, Sheriff Henderson's far-right opponent in the next election, want the bikers gone pronto, and the rest of the Skulls, particularly Gage and Billy the Kid (Stiv Bators lookin' Marc Cavell), see any such deal as knuckling under to pressure from The Man.
A local girl (character actress Mimsy Farmer) joins the club at their beach party, and when she's nearly raped, all hell breaks loose. Cody is arrested, as promised, and the Skulls look to retaliate, calling in the huge club the Stompers for backup and security. Cody's then left with the difficult task of exacting retribution without letting things get out of hand.

"Devil's Angels" is a pretty standard character driven story, wrapped in a biker film. Cody is getting older and trying to reclaim the club's glory days --or at least what he remembers as the glory days-- while being pulled at from both sides. Is he outgrowing the club, or are they pulling away from him? Though the leader of an outlaw biker club, he's a quietly intense brooder who thinks things through and balances the violence and wild partying with his thoughtful demeanor and loving relationship with Lynn. Fortunately, Cassavetes is just the actor to pull it off.
The progression of the bikers' violence is well done and even subtle for the genre, building tension as things start to spiral out of Cody's control, up to the satisfying climax.
As for the usual biker movie trappings, just about everything is top notch. Riding, party, and fight scenes boast outstanding music, mostly by Davie Allan & The Arrows (the great theme song is credited to Jerry & The Portraits, though that's clearly Allen on guitar). A lot of extras --both human and machine-- were used, giving it a realism boost, and all the bikers generally look legit. (One minor exception is the mildly retarded Robot, whom I mention mainly because during this, my first viewing of "Angels" in many a year, I nearly spit out my beer because he reminded me so much of Jack Black.)
Not just a classic biker flick but a solid movie, period. Still a solid 3-3.5 with any other lead, and the credible, engrossing John Cassavetes brings this up to 4 star territory.

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