Hell's Angels '69 is part of Media Blasters' Guilty Pleasures line, but it's not as campy or inept as the sorts of movies that spring to mind when I hear that phrase. Samurai Cop it's not; the writing and direction are both fairly competent, and at least for a drive-in flick shot on a shoestring, production values are decent. Even though nothing in particular seems to happen for long stretches of time, the pacing doesn't drag excessively. But see, that's the thing -- Hell's Angels '69 is so straightforward and unexceptional that it takes an effort for me to write anything other than those stiff, generic statements. It doesn't have any flaws so glaring that I feel compelled to poke and prod at them for paragraphs at a time, and it doesn't do anything well enough for me to scribble down any rambling praise either. It's the type of movie I'll sit down with, enjoy to some mild degree, and then file away, never to be watched again. One thing that does set this movie apart from many of the other biker flicks flooding drive-ins at the time is a cast teeming with actual Hell's Angels (including Sonny Barger), who lend the movie both authenticity and shaky line readings. They're not really given that much to do other than engage in PG-rated shenanigans and act moderately threatening. As much as the sex, drugs, and violence surrounding the Angels were played up in the sixties, none of that really filters into Hell's Angels '69, and those are all elements any exploitation flick benefits from having. Maybe that's more realistic, but what's the fun in that? Although the heist itself is surprisingly uneventful, I liked the turns the movie took after that point. The motivation behind the robbery and the relationship between the brothers turned out to be more inspired than I thought they'd be, and you can't go wrong with an explosive finale that has a bunch of bikers duking it out in the desert, even if it's not quite as exciting as that description might sound. Hell's Angels '69 may not make enough of an impression to recommend buying on its merits alone, but the fact that it features genuine Hell's Angels and a fleet of cool looking bikes might intrigue some, and the DVD includes another in a series of audio commentaries from legendary schlock-critic Joe Bob Briggs. An' if you don't know who Joe Bob is, you're reading the wrong review.
Video: Hell's Angels '69 is presented full-frame. It seems unlikely that it was screened theatrically at that aspect ratio, but there isn't any noticeable cropping, and although the movie was probably matted theatrically, the composition doesn't look too uneven with the top and bottom of the frame exposed. The image quality as a whole is mediocre but watchable. The combination of film grain and clumsy authoring leaves the video frequently taking on a buzzy, noisy appearance. There isn't much in the way of fine detail, and a couple of scattered sections are riddled with specks and assorted wear. Some patterns and objects, particularly clothing and some grills, are also prone to distortion. I'm not sure how the DVD is flagged, but Hell's Angels '69 didn't get along too well with the deinterlacer in my television, resulting in some nasty combing. Switching back to 480i cleaned up those problems immediately. Better progressive scan-capable DVD players shouldn't run into that problem, but lower-end models and some TVs may stumble into that combing as well.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack (192Kbps) is reasonably robust, free of any particularly noticeable background noise or hiss. Dialogue comes through as cleanly and crisply as can be expected, and the movie's numerous motorcycle engines are accompanied by a throaty rumble. There are no subtitles or closed captions.
Supplements: The DVD opens with an optional six minute introduction by Joe Bob Briggs, where he tosses out a little background information on this and other movies featuring the Hell's Angels, and he also tallies up the Drive-In Totals. The intro closes with a brief comment from star Conny Van Dyke, who gets her own dedicated extra where she delivers a message to her fans (9:30). Conny talks about what it was like working with the Angels, getting into a bit of trouble when Terry the Tramp decided to do something wild and take a tour of the Hoover Dam, and how the stress of making the movie caused some people to leave the production almost immediately. Conny also offers up a four minute photo gallery that spans her career. Of course, the real reason to pick up this DVD, or at least what convinced me to fish it out of the screener pool, is another audio commentary by Joe Bob Briggs, who's been making the rounds at Media Blasters lately. It's a blast to listen to, of course, and he covers a lot of ground. Some of the topics covered include Sonny Barger's preference for a Japanese bike if he hadn't been a Hell's Angel, the rules a movie featuring the Angels are honor-bound to follow, the nearly violent tale about his receiving a Golden Hammer Award from the group, comparing biker flicks (and the ending of this movie) to the western genre, and pointing out the movie's many, many gaps in logic. A great listen, as always, and probably the biggest reason to pick up this DVD. A battered full-frame trailer and clips for other Guilty Pleasures round out the extras.
Hell's Angels '69 is packaged in a transparent keepcase, and tucked inside is a set of liner notes penned by Mike Weatherford with a listing of the movie's fifteen chapter stops on the flipside. The DVD features a set of static 4x3 menus.
Conclusion: Hell's Angels '69 as a movie is strictly okay, and although it's enjoyable enough to sit through the first time, once will probably be enough for most. Even with the slim list price, I'd recommend this DVD as more of a rental unless you're a biker flick completist or happen to be collecting all of Joe Bob Briggs' audio commentaries. Rent It.