Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Wild Rebels

The Wild Rebels
D: William Grefe (also screenwriter)

Claim to fame: Now best known as a popular episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Three bikers recruit a stock car legend to be their getaway man in a bank robbery. He agrees--but only because he's undercover for the man...

Soon after the release of moneymaker "The Wild Angels," Florida schlockmeister William Grefe cranked out a biker flick of his own, starring Steve Alaimo, a local musician who'd had some minor national success.
Steve Alaimo stars as Rod, a stock car driver who grows sick of the racing grind and calls it quits. He sells off his shit and hitches a ride to a swingin' bar (Swinger's Paradise, in fact). Miami band the Birdwatchers are playing; spotting Rod with his acoustic guitar, they invite him up. He does join them (doing the original "You Don't Love Me," though in the film it's a standard). At this point, the three members of the could-you-get-less-originally named Satan's Angels (whose colors are more street gang than MC--though they do all wear cool MF patches) recognize him, and approach.
Said bikers, there with mama Linda (Bobbie Byers), who is just in it for the kicks, as she makes clear, are Banjo, the lust for violence guy; Fats (Jeff Gillen--later Santa in "A Christmas Story"!), the fat guy/dumb brute/one who wears his colors on a long brown vest (there's usually one); and Jeeter, their leader. Jeeter is an outrageous caricature, constantly speaking in an arrogant, overly polite manner with lots of pauses. If you...gentlemen...get my meaning?
They agree to meet at the gang's temporary clubhouse, a small Everglades shack, where, after cooling his forehead with a glass of room temperature red wine, Jeeter lays out his proposition. The three are members of a California club, good on two wheels but not four, and not overly familiar with the area. Seeing how he's retired from racing and in need of dough, howzabout he be their wheelman for a bank job? He declines and leaves, though Jeeter figures he'll get hungry enough to return.
Soon (actually immediately) after, Rod is approached by the police, who convince him to participate in the robbery and be their man on the inside. Rod agrees. To explain his coming back to the gang, Rod enters another race, but crashes and demolishes his car. He's accepted back, but is not completely trusted and not told of the plan.
In preparation of the robbery, Linda, Banjo, and Fats rob Ye Olde Gun Shoppe (seriously). Though it begins with the tired cliche of the frail woman buying a gun ("Can you show me how to load it?"), it soon turns violent. The shopkeep gets roughed up a bit (and the viewer is left wondering why the cops can't just bust them for this instead of sending a civilian in undercover to foil a bank robbery). Most of the "violence" in this one is pretty tame, so the bit here is pretty jarring in context.
The gang goes over the plans, but Rod is kicked out and Linda is sent to keep an eye on him. After he serenades her and gives her the old "what's a nice girl like you..." bit (answer: kicks, baby), they get makey-outey. Banjo, sent out to check on them, does not approve and a fight follows to establish that Rod can hold his own.
Early the next morning, the robbery goes off, but not quite as planned, leading to the decent but completely predictable finale.
This is a weird one. Like any Grefe (one of those directors known for shooting one take) film, it's incredibly cheap. The sets, particularly the clubhouse, look like those of a low budget play. The cheapness, however, works at times: The riding scenes, without the benefit of long or overhead shots, actually end up more exciting. And despite the low budget, the bikes they used are pretty goddamned nice.
Flubs and technical flaws abound as well. In a couple of scenes they seem to have forgotten to add sound effects. It's explained that Fats is an ex-surfer who took a board in the head and "hasn't spoken since"--shortly after some of his ad libs are dubbed over a scene of the bikers roughing up some college boys. To Grefe's credit, though, Fats isn't heard again (though he does whisper to Jeeter).
And everything is oversold. When Rod decides to race again, it makes the sports section's front page, in a large type above-the-fold headline. Though I guess that's not surprising, as the race announcer informs us that "ALL SPEED RECORDS SHOULD BE SHATTERED TODAY!"
Though Byers isn't bad, the less said about the acting, the better.
All that said, it's got its positives. The music is a big strength here. The Birdwatchers seem to have been a pretty cool Merseybeat type band, and the theme song (as well as the instrumental versions of it used as incidental music) is really cool. Though the love song Alaimo does is a beyond corny attempt at Porter/Carmichael type songwriting (and though it's just he and an acoustic guitar in the woods, guitar is about the only instrument you don't hear), the tune he does with the Birdwatchers is pretty cool. Alaimo, by the way, had had a few Hot 100 hits, though he never cracked the Top 40. About a year after this movie he and Gregg Allman would write "Melissa."
If you watch any crime movies from the '30s-'50s or read hard boiled fiction, you've seen this plot more than once. But it moves along pretty well here, and other than some racing footage a couple times, there's very little padding and few especially slow parts. In fact, the pacing really isn't bad at all.

This is bad, but good bad--one that grows on you. Not counting the MST3K episode, I saw this twice and liked it better the second time. Bet it'll be even more entertaining when it gets a third screening sometime, and will probably peak at the 2.5 I'm gonna give it now.
Kicks, baby. I did it for kicks.

No comments:

Post a Comment