Monday, 10 August 2009

The Choppers (1961)

One of the legends of 1960s exploitation movies was Arch Hall Sr. A producer, writer and occasional director, his Fairway International Pictures made a string of weird and wonderful movies in the early 60s, all starring his son Arch Hall Jr (who usually contributed the music as well, the music bring a treat for fans of awesomely bad early 60s pop music). The Choppers, which first saw the light of day in 1961, was the first of these genuinely amazing productions.

There’s a definite Ed Wood quality to these films. Very low budgets, wooden acting, clunky scripts and jaw-dropping dialogue. But like Ed Wood’s movies they include more entertainment value than many movies made with budgets hundreds of times greater.

The title refers to a gang of juvenile delinquent car thieves. They don’t actually steal cars, they strip them on the spot, carrying off the valuable bits in an old truck loaded with crates of live chickens (which makes the perfect cover and gives the impression they’re hayseed farmers). The leader of the gang is Cruiser (Arch Hall Jr). He acts as scout and lookout, tooling about in his expensive hot rod and communicating with his accomplices by means of a breathtakingly gigantic walkie-talkie. The gang has a fence, in the form of Moose, who runs a sleazy junk yard. The gang has wrecked so many cars that the police are getting serious about catching them, especially after they find a vital clue in the form of a chicken feather.

While the acting in general is fairly deplorable it has to be said that Arch Hall Jr isn’t that bad (and he’s extremely good indeed in one of their later movies, The Sadist). And the rest of the cast may be bad actors, but they’re bad in a fun way. There are the obligatory moral messages, delivered to the audience by a self-righteous radio reporter covering the investigation. He warns us solemnly that stealing hub caps is almost always the start of a violent and spectacular criminal career. In fact one member of the gang got his start in serious crime by stealing a peanut butter sandwich in grade school.

It all comes to an action-packed and bloody end, proving once again that crime does not pay. Although the last words we hear from Cruiser are, “We had a ball.” Truly these crazy kids will do anything for kicks.

It’s not ground-breaking cinema, but it’s a good deal of fun and a must for fans of JD movies. My copy came in a boxed set called Classic Teenage Rebels from St Clair Vision. All public domain titles, but the sound and image quality on The Choppers was more than acceptable. The set itself is ridiculously cheap if you shop around, and you just can’t own too many juvenile delinquent movies. I recommend this one.

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