The Wild Angels is a 1966 Roger Corman film, made on location in Southern California. The Wild Angels was made three years before Easy Rider and was the first film to associate actorPeter Fonda with Harley-Davidson motorcycles and 1960s counterculture. It was also the film that inspired the outlaw biker film genre that continued into the early 1970s.
The Wild Angels, released by American International Pictures (AIP), stars Fonda as the fictitious Hells Angels San Pedro, California chapter president "Heavenly Blues" (or "Blues"), Nancy Sinatra as his girlfriend "Mike", Bruce Dern as doomed fellow outlaw "the Loser", and Dern's real-life wife Diane Ladd as the Loser's on-screen wife, "Gaysh".
Small supporting roles are played by Michael J. Pollard and Gayle Hunnicutt and, according to literature promoting the film, members of the Hells Angels from Venice, California. Members of the Coffin Cheaters motorcycle club also appeared.
In between sprees featuring drugs, fights, sexual assault, loud revving Harley chopper engines and bongo drums, the Angels ride out to Mecca, California in the desert to look for the Loser's stolen motorcycle. They blame a group of Mexicans in a repair shop, and the two groups brawl. The police arrive, chasing the Angels on foot, and the Loser escapes by stealing a police motorcycle. After a chase on mountain roads, one of the officers shoots the Loser in the back, putting him in the hospital.
Blues leads a small group of Angels that sneaks him out of the hospital, and one of them begins to sexually attack a black nurse until Blues pulls him away. The nurse identifies Blues to police though he stopped the attack. Without proper medical care, the Loser goes into shock and dies. His cohorts forge a death certificate and arrange a church funeral in the Loser’s rural hometown. Blues interrupts the service and, the Angels have a "party". The Angels remove the Loser from his Nazi flag-draped casket, sit him up and place a joint in his mouth, knock out theminister, place him in the casket, and two Angels drug and rape the Loser’s grieving widow, Gaysh, while Blues is apparently having sex with another woman.
Later, the Angels proceed to the Sequoia Grove cemetery to bury the Loser. There, the locals throw stones at the Angels and provoke a fight. As police sirens approach and everyone scatters, Mike begs Blues to leave immediately, but he refuses and tells her to leave with another member of the gang. Blues stays behind, and before burying his friend on his own, says with resignation, "There's nowhere to go."
AIP became interested in making a film about the Hells Angels after seeing a photo on the cover of Life magazine for a biker funeral. They approached Roger Corman, who hired Charles B. Griffith to write a screenplay. Griffith's first draft was a near-silent movie which contrasted the bikers with the story of a police motorcycle cop. Corman did not like it and had Griffith rewrite it. Corman still was not happy and gave it to Peter Bogdanovich to rewrite. Bogdanovich had met Corman socially and agreed to write an adventure script for in the vein of Lawrence of Arabiaor Bridge on the River Kwai "only cheap"; Corman pulled Bogdanovoch off that project and paid him $300 to work on Wild Angels. Bogdanovich later estimated he rewrote 80% of the script.He later directed second unit and did various other odd jobs.
Film critic Leonard Maltin called The Wild Angels "OK after about 24 beers." It opened the Venice Film Festival in 1966, to tepid response. Corman took chances with this subject matter and the Charles B. Griffith–authored screenplay, without being overly graphic, which paid dividends commercially: The Wild Angels was the 16th highest grossing film of 1966, earning $5.5 million in domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals.
While promoting another of his 1960s counterculture movies, The Trip, and autographing a movie still from The Wild Angels depicting Bruce Dern and him sharing one motorcycle, Fonda conceived the film Easy Rider. Easy Rider was also about two men, but with each riding his own motorcycle.