Motorcycle Divas Have a History of Sexist Appeal

by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
John Hughes 1930 Hells Angels
John Hughes 1930 Hells Angels
HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) - Racing on the highway chasing an unfathomable American road dream has placed the "cyclist" in the spotlights since movie making began. Often used as the mode of transportation for  the young male rebel (think James Dean or John Travolta in “Grease”)  .... but with him will be 'gang,' and his woman. Depending on the theme, especially  in the last 20 years  bloodsucking zombie or vampire stripping  ladies  may lurch nearby.

Speaking of “Grease,” you know that Travolta seeks to loosen up Olivia Newton John’s prim and proper student. Rather, than succumb to Travolta’s direct wooing, she has an image change becoming a Pink Lady.

During the 50s-70s, low budget motorcycle flicks  provided a break for Jack (“Hells Angels on Wheels,” 1967); Dennis (“”Glory Stompers,” 1967);  Bruce (“”Cycle Savages,” 1970) Dern; and Peter (“Wild Angels”) Fonda. By 1969, the Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson trio created the “Easy Riders” classic.

The cycle flick originated from a Hunter Thompson article about the real “Hell’s Angels” motorcycle club in California. You can rattle off low budget films with “Hell’s Angels” in the title and icons such as “On Any Sunday,”  “Coogan’s Bluff (Clint Eastwood), “Mad Max”, or Brando’s “Wild One.” But, even in the diva friendly 21st Century, this bygone genre stuck to the “bad boys.” When “bad girls” came to play, they might lead a gang but they’ll make love to more than their shiny black bike.

“CC and Company” (1970) had Ann Margaret hanging on to real-life football hero, Joe Namath who’s leading one motorcycle gang against another. Nancy Sinatra played a hanger in “The Wild Angels” and who can forget the nude female rider (generally a wide shot) from “Vanishing Point.” Cher co-starred in “Mask,” a touching drama in which her son had a deformed face and only members of the “gang” accepted him.

By contrast, women were the “victims” of LSD indulging bikers in “Satan’s Sadists” (1969). One of the earliest, comes from 1955 and in glorious  black and white tells of  Cassendra (Barbara Marks) forsakes college saying “I do” to a cycle riding, pot and heroin smoker in “Teenage Devil Dolls.”  

Girls from Thunder Strip had a Moonshine and Tobacco theme
Girls from Thunder Strip had a Moonshine and Tobacco theme
Gradually, the women rode their bikes and headed up “gangs,” but a sexist aura still  prevailed. The titles may occasionally have a “tough” title like “Girls from Thunder Strip” (1966), “Teenage Gang Debs” (1966)  or , “Sisters in Leather” (1969) , yet even one of the then most progressive filmmakers maintained an R-rating for partial or full nudity. “Thunder Strip” has an Appalachian theme. In it a group of hippie chicks on cycles descend upon a moonshine making venue resulting in one of a kind sixties shocking culture crashes.

Director Al Adamson , for instance, brought to the screen women who won’t be kicked around on the road with “Angels Wild Women” (1972) , “The Hellcats” (1967), “She Devils on Wheels” (1968), “The MiniSkirt Mob” (Sherry Jackson, 1968), “Sisters in Leather “ (1969)  “Angels Wild Women “ (1972) and “Cycle Vixens” (1978). They were drive in theatre favorites for the teen set, but even the leaders of the pack either didn’t wear bras or went topless on their journeys.

“Road of Death” (1973) had adult star Carol Connors (“Candy Goes to Hollywood”) starring with her real-life husband, Jack Birch, in a free love biker flick set in Florida. When accosted by a motorcycle gang, husband and wife set out for vengeance against hog-riding creeps.

 According to biker movie compilation sites, 1972’s “Bury Me an Angel” put a woman for the first time  in the director’s chair and a woman in the lead. Described by INDB as “tautly directed… from the woman’s point of view,” the film’s heroine sets out with a shotgun intending to avenge the murder of her brother.

"Bury Me" was the first biker film directed by a woman AND featured a strong woman in the lead role.
"Bury Me" was the first biker film directed by a woman AND featured a strong woman in the lead role.
  Barbara Peeters directed the so-called hot dog memory.   Dixie Peabody (“Angels Die Hard”) , a six foot buxom blonde, gets on her bike with a sawed off shotgun and aided by two men ( Sorry, ladies, this was the 70s!) , goes after the killer of her brother. Considered the first biker film directed by a woman, “Bury Me” blurbs called it “a howling hellcat humping a hot dog on a roaring rampage of revenge.”

Ms. Peeters who also wrote the script came from the Roger Corman school of acting/directing from which Ron (“Eat My Dust”) Howard graduated . Bottom line: It’s R-rated for violence , and possible sexual content, strong language and drug abuse.  She broke into pics as a dispatcher with darker hair (“The Gun Runner, 1969) and received top billing for “Caged Desires.”  She also handled second unit directorial chores on car chase flicks, such as “Eat My dust” and “Moving Violation.”

Roger Cormen’s distribution company , New World Pictures, specialized in low budget action/adventure with plenty of T & A. Ms. Peeters went on to direct the sci-fic/horror, “Humanoids of the Deep,” after completing the director’s cut, Corman went back and “salted” additional gratuitous female nudity. The same treatment was given her PG rated “Starhops,” which was re-edited to an R.

 In addition, she directed , “Summer School Teachers” (1974), a sequel to “The Student Teachers,” which played at the Keith Albee on the night of the Marshall air tragedy.  

Although the black leather jacketed male buddies crossing the country in a rite of passage buddy flick have been common, an alert surfer asked: Why aren’t there any female biker buddy films?  None have been named. Skipping the “chic flick” relationship and fashion genre, the closest female “buddy” flick comes from a “Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid” scenario. Check out, “Thelma and Louise.”  (1991)  Susan Surandon and Geena Davis  screech the four wheels of a ’66 Thunderbird, but it’s the attitude and they have abandoned any resemblance to “Nine to Five.”

One highly regarded cult flick shot in Europe, “Girl on a Motorcycle” (1968) gave Marianne Faithful her fifteen minutes.  She had been photographed only in a fur rug during a drug bust at Keith Richard’s house.  In the film, a.k.a. “Naked Under Leather,” she dons a black leather cat suit with fur lining. This could be the closest to a cyclist diva road trip you can find. She plays a woman running from her newlywed husband on her Harley.

Finally, “Man Eaters She Devils on Wheels” (1968) pits an all-female L.A. based bike club with some male biker groupies. After one of the women is murdered, the pussycat boetie wearing Maneaters  string wire and start decapitating men.  Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, he would move on to direct gore classics, such as “Two Thousand Maniacs” and “Blood Feast.”


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