Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: Race With the Devil (1975)

Release Date: June 27th, 1975
Directed by: Jack Starrett
Written by: Wes Bishop, Lee Frost
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R.G. Armstrong

Saber Productions, 20th Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“What the hell happened to your van here? Your back window is all busted up!” – Gas Station Attendant, “I don’t drive too well when I’m asleep.” – Frank Stewart

Race With the Devil may have been distributed by a major studio but it was still a pretty bad ass grindhouse-esque picture during the heyday of those movies. Maybe it didn’t quite cross the line like the harder edged grindhouse action fare but it still had gargantuan gravitas and did a great job with its build up of suspense and its truly satisfying ending.

The film mixes a few genres that were popular at the time and honestly, should always be popular: horror, thriller, action, road trip and car chase. The road trip and car chase genres need better names, by the way.

From a narrative standpoint, the film is well balanced between its genres. It does great with the dramatic aspects and builds tension while mixing in the action at the right times. It isn’t an over the top action epic, per se, but those parts of the film are finely executed. The big car chase battle in the film’s climax is superb in all the right ways and delivers something great and gritty.

Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are both manly men and while their wives can get ridiculously annoying with the dumb damsel in distress shtick, these two men hold their own and never back down from the crazed Satanic cultists that are hunting them across Texas.

It is the inclusion of the cult that makes the film so cool, not to ignore the two leads and the awesome action. The heroes witness the Satanic cult sacrificing a nude women in the wilderness. The cultists see that they are being watched and spend the rest of the movie terrorizing these nice vacationers.

There are a few negatives but nothing major.

One, when they are sacrificing the nude babe, the film sort of blurs out her bare skinned sexual bits. C’mon, you’re sacrificing some naked babe on screen and you’re going to pull punches?

Secondly, the rattlesnake battle was poorly edited and confusing. I didn’t realize that there were actually two snakes until the tail end of this battle and the whole thing goes on entirely too long with the wives screaming like cracked out banshees. Real “nail on the chalk board” type stuff. But I do love rattlesnake danger in movies.

Another thing that kind of works against the picture, is that even though it all takes place in Texas, everything just looks the same geographically. Texas is a huge state with a lot of geographical changes.

Additionally, this cult is huge, as just about everyone in Texas seems to be in on it. There is some sort of large sinister network at work here but I’m not really sure how they are tracking the heroes and communicating when all the phones are “dead”.

But this isn’t the type of film that one should sit there and nitpick. I can’t help it though. But honestly, the flaws don’t bother me. I don’t watch these types of movies expecting Oscar caliber masterpieces. I watch them to be mindlessly entertained for 90 minutes. However, if one goes above and beyond mindless entertainment, which this film does, you’ve truly got something special.

Ride With the Devil is a solid piece of work. It has stood the test of time and still plays great today. And while not truly a grindhouse film, it does carry that same vibe and is a much more approachable picture for audiences that might not want to be overwhelmed with sex and violence.

Film Review: Futureworld (1976)

Release Date: June 28th, 1976
Directed by: Richard T. Heffron
Written by: Mayo Simon, George Schenck
Music by: Fred Karlin
Cast: Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Arthur Hill, Stuart Margolin, John Ryan, Yul Brynner

Aubrey Company/Paul N. Lazarus III, American International Pictures, 107 Minutes

futureworldReview:

I had never seen Futureworld until now. I had always heard that it was a poor sequel to Westworld but I didn’t interpret it that way at all. While it is an extension of its predecessor and shares some ideas and plot points, it feels like its own movie.

It stars Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner, two reporters who go to the Delos Corporation’s re-opened theme park a few years after the tragedy that took place in Westworld. They are there to see if everything is on the up-and-up. Yul Brynner reprises his role as the gunslinging killer android  from the previous film. However, Brynner only appears in a bizarre fantasy dream sequence. The inclusion of the Brynner character was pretty pointless.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this picture. It stood out as its own story and didn’t try to just rehash what we saw in Westworld. To be honest, it was a better story. Sure, it was missing the iconic gunslinger with his cold stare and dead android eyes but it had killer android doppelgängers. After the reveal of the Delos Corporation’s sinister plan, you never really knew who might already be a killer android. I feel like they could and should have done a lot more with this major plot development but they utilized it pretty minimally. There was a big opportunity to create some serious tech paranoia but things never really went that far.

Peter Fonda was better than decent as the lead. He looked like he was having fun but he didn’t bring anything unique or exceptional to the role. Blythe Danner is always a pleasant sight but any cute starlet could have played her part just as effectively.

The direction wasn’t fantastic either. It also wasn’t bad. But that’s kind of what this movie was for the most part. It was a straightforward and somewhat mediocre mid 70s sci-fi thriller but it had an air of coolness about it. I think that was mostly due to the sets and the imagination that went into a lot of the tech stuff in the picture. And again, I do enjoy this movie.

Had this been a rehash of the original film, it would’ve been a total dud. The fact that it reached far outside of its own box, is what makes it worth people’s time. I get that people don’t seem to hold this in the same regard as Westworld, but I think they are good companion pieces to one another.