If you frequented the drive-ins in the late 1960s/early 1970s, you may not recognize the name Joe Solomon, but you're probably familiar with some of the films he released through his independent company called Fanfare Film Production, Inc., most notably his extremely popular motorcycle pictures like Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), Angels from Hell (1968), Run, Angel, Run (1969), and this one, titled The Losers (1970) aka Nam's Angels, not to be confused with the 1988 film Nam Angels, which was essentially the same story, but with lesser production values and none of the star power, directed by Cirio H. Santiago. This film, written by Alan Caillou (Village of the Giants, Kingdom of the Spiders) and directed by Jack Starrett (Run, Angel, Run, Cleopatra Jones, Race with the Devil), features legendary B movie actor William Smith (Run, Angel, Run, Any Which Way You Can, Conan the Barbarian). Also appearing is Bernie Hamilton (Hammer), Adam Roarke (Psych-Out, Frogs), Houston Savage, Eugene Cornelius (Run, Angel, Run), Vic Diaz (Black Mama, White Mama, The Big Bird Cage), and Paul Koslo (Vanishing Point, The Omega Man), sporting one of the more ridiculous perms I've seen in awhile.
Smith plays Lincoln `Link' Thomas, leader of a small motorcycle gang known as the Devils Advocates, who have been hired by the American army to ride into Cambodia to rescue a captured CIA operative named Chet Davis (played by the director himself), something the army couldn't do because officially, there was no war in the region. Link's crew is made up of some real characters, including Speed (Cornelius), Limpy (Koslo), and two, recent veterans of Vietnam conflict named Duke (Roarke) and Dirty Denny (Savage). Once in country, the boys hop on some motorcycles and ride into a small village near the Vietnam/Cambodian border, where the plan is to modify their motorcycles A-Team style before embarking on their mission. Both Duke and Denny tend to some unfinished business, there's some barroom brawling, Limpy hooks up with a babe, and it looks like the modification work on the bikes will never get done. Things change, though, when most of the gang gets arrested after a tussle with the local authorities, and some army representatives smooth things over on the condition they buckle down and complete their work. After finishing up on the bikes and spending a great deal of time working over the plans, the boys finally head off, invading a compound crawling with not only Viet Cong, but also Chinese army regulars. It's some kick ash action as all hell is unleashed. Things initially go well, but eventually the plan turns to feces as the guy they're sent to rescue is a real, un-cooperative a-hole, and he and Link have a history. The boys, or what's left of them, are captured and imprisoned, stuck behind enemy lines, with no hope of outside help. Things are certainly looking grim for our hapless, hairy heroes, but if motorcycle films have taught me anything, it's that bikers are a crafty, resilient, diehard bunch, and not likely to go down with out a fight.
It seemed to take a while for this movie, which was shot in the Philippines, to really get going, but once it did, woo wee! The first hour or so involved things getting set up, and featured more schmaltz than I would have preferred, especially in terms of Duke hooking back up with the girl he had to leave behind when his official tour of duty was over, and Limpy making time with a local woman who had a young daughter via a relationship with an American army officer who subsequently dumped her. I think these bits, along with a few other sequences, were meant to round out the characters rather than just portraying them as sleazy, dirty, drunken, greasy, hairy, stinky, foul mouthed bikers interested only in booze, broads, and brawling (that's Dirty Denny all over). They work to a point, but they also cause the movie to drag a little on the front end. Things do seriously pick up once the boys invade the enemy camp, riding hopped up motorcycles with armor plating and front mounted machine guns, blowing the hell out of everything in sight. The best parts involved Limpy, driving a three wheeled monstrosity known as the `hog wagon', which featured twin forward mounted, heavy caliber machine guns, along with a oversized rocket launcher. This movie is worth checking out alone for the scenes when he pops a wheelie so that he can fire rockets at overhead guard posts scattered throughout the compound. The action sequences were exceptionally orchestrated and filmed well, as was the stunt work, although the slow motion death sequence routine was over utilized a little. As far as the acting, it was solid all around, and it seemed like there was a good bit of improvisation in terms of the script, which featured plenty of juicy racist, un-politically correct comments thrown about. This might be objectionable to some, but given the context of the story and the characters themselves, it was representative of attitudes present at the time, and ultimately adding a certain level of realism to the movie. The blood may not have looked all that real, but there was plenty of it, especially near the end. One really odd aspect of the movie was the theme song. It's a sort of trite, folksy, fatalistic piece common of the time, sung by a woman with a high voice. I would have preferred a more rockin' bit of music (Stu Phillips composed the instrumental pieces featured in the film), but I think the piece was used to evoke a sense of melancholy for the characters whose destinies were predetermined long before they accepted the dangerous mission played out in the story, tying back to the title of the movie, The Losers.
Dark Sky Films provides an excellent looking, widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic print on this DVD release, along with a strong Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track. As far as extras, there are English subtitles, a good commentary track featuring actors William Smith and Paul Koslo (along with a moderator), a photo gallery featuring promotional materials for the film, two radio spots, and a theatrical trailer for the movie along with one for another film called Werewolves on Wheels (1971).
If I learned anything from this film, it's that thatched huts blow up real good and if a vindictive biker ever offers you a beer, be sure to keep one eye on him while you're guzzling it otherwise he'll punch you in your fat gut, causing you to lose your good time vibe (and your lunch).