Chrome and Hot Leather

How long has it been since Hollywood turned out a biker movie?  In the 60’s and 70’s there were tons of them, but the genre has pretty much vanished today.  Of course, one of the studios that made several biker films was good ole American International Pictures (AIP).  In 1971, they brought us the story of a Green Beret who returns from battling the Vietnamese only to battle a gang of bikers…”Chrome and Hot Leather.”

At the beginning of the film, two young ladies are driving along a mountain road when a gang of bikers, The Wizards, come along.  The bikers get a little too close for comfort, but when the ladies try to get away, a particularly disagreeable character called Casey (Michael Haynes) gets knocked off his bike.  Now out for revenge, Casey chases them down and slams a heavy chain into their windshield.  They end up driving off the road, down a hill to their death.  At first the gang leader, TJ (William Smith), instructs his followers to stop and help, but when another car approaches they quickly drive away.

One of the girls, Kathy (played by Cheryl Ladd credited as Cherie Moor) ends up being the fiancée of Mitch (Tony Young), a Green Beret.  Frustrated with what seems to be the police’s lack of ability to track down the gang responsible, he and his army buddies (Michael Stearns, Peter Brown, and Motown singer Marvin Gaye), set out to find them.  All they have to go on is that Mitch’s girl kept saying the word “devil” before she died.  So they figure they are searching for a gang called “The Devils.”  So…these army boys buy themselves some Kawasakis and head out.  That is, after practicing their riding techniques…which results in a fairly funny montage sequence.

The four buddies head off in separate directions in search of The Devils.  It doesn’t take long for Mitch to catch up with a gang that all have a large devil head on the backs of their jackets…The Wizards.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  I didn’t think so either.

Casey’s girl, Susan (Kathy Baumann), takes a particular interest in Mitch.  She gains him entrance into The Wizard’s pool hall hangout.  TJ gives Mitch a hard time at first, but soon seems to accept him.  With Casey away, Susan takes this opportunity to take Mitch to a house across the street and…shall we say, welcome him in a special way.  This leads to one of the funniest moments in the film: as Mitch and the topless Susan fall on to the bed in each other’s arms, the filmmakers cut to close-ups of the ball in a pinball machine pumping up and down between two bumpers.  Leave it to AIP!

Of course, when Casey comes back, he’s none too happy about all this.  But, Mitch’s buddies show up in time to rescue him.  Now our heroes must launch a plan to catch The Wizards.  By “borrowing” a bunch of equipment from another army buddy, they stage an A-Team style trap for the nasty bikers.

Several other reviews I’ve read for this film point out that this is an unusual film in the grand scheme of biker movies.  Whereas most of these films seem to glorify the lifestyle of the biker gang, this movie’s heroes are military men out to make the bikers pay for their crimes.  But, as is expected, the bikers are much more interesting characters than Mitch and his buddies are.  William Smith as TJ is a very ominous figure and a great bad guy.  Michael Haynes as Casey is also quite effective.  It’s great to see these two characters who, though a part of the same gang, are clearly at war with each other.

Our good guys, on the other hand, are pretty bland.  Tony Young shows very little in the way of emotion.  This is a character who has been around a lot of terrible things…a Green Beret in an unpopular war.  Now his fiancée has suffered a horrible death.  Tons of different emotions should be battling within him…but he can barely even manage a blink.   Even when the final confrontation between Berets and Bikers takes place, there’s no emotion.  I mean, they’re finally getting their revenge…but they just stare with blank expressions as they lob explosives.  It’s not very satisfying for the viewer.

The film is entertaining, but has a lot of missed opportunities and, despite some good villains, is just a bit too “nice” compared to other biker flicks.  Who knows…the musical came back, the western came back, perhaps the biker film will come back.  Just don’t use this one as the model.

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