Despite going slack for a while during the middle, Angel Unchained is a fair compendium of late ’60s/early ’70s signifiers thanks a plot that combines a biker gang, hippies living on a desert commune, and nasty rednecks who don’t like either of the preceding social groups. There’s not much in the way of thematic material, beyond the protagonist’s angst when he finds himself torn between the biker and hippie lifestyles, so it’s not as if director Lee Madden and his collaborators tried to reinvent the cycle-flick formula. That said, Angel Unchained has clearly defined characters, a paucity of seedy exploitation elements, and unhurried pacing, so it’s perhaps best described as a biker picture that people who don’t normally like the genre might find palatable. By the same measure, those who groove on wild scenes of scooter freaks unleashing mayhem would do well to get their kicks elsewhere, since Angel Unchained is tame by the genre’s normal standards. There’s a fair amount of brawling and drinking and riding, but the leading character is a thoughtful dude who takes a principled stand, rather than an outlaw who stirs up trouble by antagonizing authorities.
The picture starts stylishly with a rumble at an amusement park, and then Angel (Don Stroud) says he’s ready to quit the biker-gang scene. He relinquishes leadership of his gang to Pilot (Larry Bishop), then hits the road until he encounters hippie chick Merilee (Tyne Daly). After Angel helps her out during a hassle with rednecks who dislike having a commune near their town, Merilee invites Angel to groove on their back-to-nature trip a while. Later, when the rednecks make serious trouble, Angel recruits his old biker pals for help, leading to an interesting strange-bedfellows passage during which the bikers and the hippies attempt coexistence. Nothing surprising happens in Angel Unchained, but the picture is shot fairly well, and the performances generally hit the right notes, although it’s peculiar to see Luke Askew—who usually played scumbags and thugs in the ’70s—portraying the leader of the hippie commune. That said, the scumbag quotient is more than amply filled by character actor Bill McKinney, who plays a violent biker named Shotgun with his usual gleeful menace.
Angel Unchained: FUNKY