Of all the various and sundry film genres that have come and gone, one that has almost completely disappeared is that of films pandering to the radical, Anti-American counterculture of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s aka the period of 1967-1975. These movies have hardly appeared on TV channels for decades and their rate of release on VHS/DVD is extremely low compared to “establishment” movies made during the same period of time.
One form of these counterculture flicks was that of the biker movie that reached its apex during this time period. Biker movies had been around since the 1950’s following the outbreak of biker violence in northern California in the late 1940’s. Generally, the original biker movies had been merely a more exotic brand of crime flicks. However, adding a counter cultural element to biker movies turned them into vehicles of protest against the vicissitudes of the “establishment” that was allegedly responsible for all that was wrong with the world. This establishment was supposedly suppressive of the aspirations of young people everywhere.
Angels Hard as They Come opens with the leaders of a hippie group called the Angels endeavoring to buy some illegal drugs. They succeed in making contact with a biker gang called the Dragons that deals in drugs. A time and place for making the exchange is agreed on. However, the police somehow learn of the deal and show up and prevent it from taking place. The purveyors and customers evade the law and set up a deal later on in the desert.
This time, not only do the leaders of the Angels and the Dragons show up at the rendezvous point that turns out to be a ghost town, but so do their followers. At first, the interaction between the hippies and the biker gang members is peaceful and lots of fun. However, the leader of the bikers called “The General” (Charles Dierkop) and his right hand man Axe (Gary Littlejohn) are a pair of psychotics who hanker for an excuse to wage war against the hippies and force the hippie females into sexual slavery. Eventually, they get their excuse for violence when one of the male Angels gets carried away with all the drugs and alcoholic beverages and accidentally kills one of the female Angels.
While it is clear to the viewer that one of the Angels is to blame for the death, the General comes to this conclusion without even bothering to investigate. Likewise, the Angels conclude that one of the Dragons must have been responsible without trying to figure out just who was responsible for the tragedy. Each group holds the other responsible without anyone even suggesting that the counter culturalists try to hold an impartial inquiry. Each group wants to blame the other and use it an excuse to wage violence upon the other. As a result, the gathering of oh so peaceful and wonderful “anti-war” activists dissolves into a melee of violence and savagery.
Angels Hard as They Come is a fascinating movie. Its subject matter had been used in many other contemporary movies as an excuse to pander to the “hip” crowd and portray hippies as being purely peace loving souls who merely want to get away from “the man” (a phrase that is used about 1,000 times in the movie). This movie has a realistic look at the hippie culture that was every bit as conformist as the American culture that the hippies were rebelling against. It also shows the violence that hippies often engaged in as well as the violence that biker gangs indulged in. Drugs play a role in the movie that is every bit as important as drugs were in the real life counterculture.
Angels Hard as They Come is a moderately well done movie. It has strong performances from both Gary Busey and Scott Glenn. The script is fairly well written by both Jonathan Demme and Joseph Viola. However, most of the other acting is mixed and the cinematography is just barely passable. Overall, its a movie worth renting, but its not something that you will likely want to have for your collection.