Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Hell's Belles (1969)

An excellent biker drama with a sentimental touch, which firmly holds onto it's core due to wittily recycled screenplay, borrowing the best from a classic western "Winchester '73" starring Jimmy Stewart. A writer for the movie was James Gordon White, who rewrote the old, but nevertheless very sharp story and changed the original winchester to a motorbike, making "Hell's Belles" one of the strongest players in biker league. On the top, it does have a brilliant psych-biker-soul music by Lex Baxter, who partly took over the job when Davie Allan & The Arrows were dropped from Sidewalk Records after "Wild In The Street" soundtrack failed to sale (which doesn't seem strange as it was completely stripped from the usual fuzz) and it features beautiful Jocelyn Lane, who's acted in few films feigning American accent just to get married finally in 1971 and quit movie business. What can I say? It's definitely one of my favourite drive-in fodders from AIP.

Plot focuses on a biker named Dan (Jeremy Slate), who decides he wants to quit going where the wind blows and settle down instead. Luckily enough he wins $2,000 worth Triumph bike in a sand chase, that would pay his land's mortgage. Bike gets jacked though by a young stud, who doesn't want to get over his failure in the race and strongly desires the prize. However, the same day luck is to leave him, when mocked by a gang of randomly met biker dropouts, led by a ruthless and edgy dude – Tampa (Adam Roarke), he's eventually forced to make a non-negotiable deal and exchange the bike. It's gonna be between Tampa and Dan now... and nobody really wants to throw a towel. Dan wants his baby back, so tails the gang, but unfortunately gets caught in a desperate attempt to lay hands on it.

He gets fixed pretty good at first, but after that he's offered live biker stock, a chick named Cathy (Jocelyn Lane) as a sort of pay from Tampa. Although girl is a sex bomb (oh yes, yes, yes!), she's a nasty pussycat, who'll try everything to cut loose from her new papa. As the pursuit moves ahead, intimate feelings start to bloom between them both, brought up in few cheesy scenes – still very warm accent for a biker movie in my opinion. After the savages burn a local gasoline station and escape to the desert, Dan's luck is up again as he's entering the area known well as his own pocket, which will be used for his end. He's practically the master of the game now and without any mercy will crack down on the ugly bunch with inventive guerilla techniques, raising havoc and undermining morale to clear the ground for his final assault!

This salacious take on a classic western is very good one indeed and Maury Dexter ("Maryjane", "The Young Animals") directs the movie with a certain B-grade brilliance. Shots are precise, natural and highly involving, dialogues filled with hope and beauty (ok, they're soapy, but enjoyable) and acting is one of the best, you'll ever see in AIP movie. In fact, Adam Roarke, who's been sort of Lee Van Cleef of 60's biker movie, gives juicy performance in "Hell's Belles". I'd say he tops his much better recognized role of Buddy from "Hells Angels On Wheels", which is fine but lacks the effort he're strikingly obvious. Jeremy Slate's role is not bad either, he definitely digs this whole biker-cowboy vibe coming through with a mash of old school machismo and romantic depth. Apparently, Jocelyn Lane's acting cannot match any of the leading roles, but her mini-skirt beauty is such a kick here anyway... even when she utters cheap lines like: Bikes are like men. They're all the same, pouting like an angry teenager, she's such a cool babe.

Backdrop is this genre's classic – 80% of the time we get through the desert, visit deserted cabin or ruins, but at least we're doing it listening to some awesome music. Since it's been out of print for over a decade, it's a very rare record now! Worth having in collection though – a fantastic mix of cinematic soul, biker sound fuzz and chilling psych by Lex Baxter is a perfect artifact of the high 60's. It's very different from all that stuff, you usually get in biker movies and it kicks ass! While "Hell's Belles" effortlessly steps over usual exploitation brainstorming, featuring bikers getting around, having love-in, smashing clubs and killing random people, with it's quality story and all-rounded characters, the final scene is a real act of pagan genius. Two men on their bikes, like horses... and a girl. Furious, desperate and loaded with testosterone they will beat the shit out of each other keeping their dicks up no matter what. And it all happens in the desert, where rattlesnakes can kiss you goodnight or moon can sing you a song.

For my money 1969 pretty well wrapped up the biker stuff, exemplified by this shit, "The Hells Angels '69" or "Easy Rider", which kicked up a genre gig to the auteur level. With the 70's going pure baroque and bringing dumber and dumber low-budget productions to the screen, which in the end stopped making any fuckin' sense or were so miserable and repetitive, that failed to tap into the shifting market – now reigned by women-in-prison movies – flicks like "Hell's Belles" were sort of last products of very particular cheap thrills delivering school.

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