Book review by Sev Pearman
What do Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, Marvin Gaye, James Earl Jones, Peter Graves and Casey Kasem have in common? They all appeared in motorcycle movies. This is one of many fun facts contained in Two Wheels.
We here at MMM tirelessly read and watch a ton of crap so that you don’t have to. We felt pretty confident of our motorcycle film knowledge; that is until Two Wheels rolled up on our doorstep. Everyone knows that Jack Nicholson starred in “Easy Rider”, but were you aware that he had principal parts in two other biker movies? (“Rebel Rousers” and “Hell’s Angels on Wheels”) Or that former Minnesota-Viking-turned-Minnesota-Supreme-Court-Justice Carl Eller along with five other NFL cronies had a starring role in “The Black Six”?
Author Seate has done a great job here. Rather than attempt to be an encyclopedia of titles, a project made almost impossible by the endless repackage and re-titling of these movies, Two Wheels is more of a historical catalogue of the evolution of the motorcycle film.
Seate presents historic context for each of the titles. He explains why a post-WWII sullen Brando in “The Wild One” has more in common with a disaffected James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” than he does with either ë”ong-hair” character in Easy Rider. He demonstrates that as long as the second wave of biker movies (Wild Angels, etc) made a profit, studios continued to recycle the same old non-plot lines and images. This continues today with the Freddy Kreuger/Friday the 13th horror films, and the current crop of copycat gross-out movies.
One aspect of biker-lifestyle explored by Seate is his claim that Clubs affected the look and act of the screen riders, and not the other way round. The Outlaws, a motorcycle “club” from West Palm Beach, Florida, took their colors from the Black Rebels, Brando’s motorcycle gang in “The Wild One.” Sonny Barger, our favorite outrider-turned entrepreneur, inked a deal with American International Pictures as a “technical advisor.” Seate makes a strong argument that the proliferation of these films spurred the growth of clubs like the Hell’s Angels.
Two Wheels is an excellent read. It is both a history of motorcycle culture since World War Two and a critical list of most motorcycle movies. One read and youíll be out the door to try and find titles youíve missed. Well worth the purchase price.