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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chrome & Hot Leather (1971) review


Tony Young (Mitch), William Smith (T.J.), Michael Haynes (Casey), Marvin Gaye (Jim), Peter Brown (Al), Michael Stearns (Hank), Kathrine Baumann (Susan), Wes Bishop (Sheriff), Bobby Pickett (Sweet Willy), Cheryl Ladd (Kathy)

Directed by Lee Frost

T.J.: "Gabriel...can't you see we're menacing someone?"

T.J.: "No, you leave when you're excused. Now say it. Please...may I be excused. Say it!"

A soldier returns from action in Vietnam to learn that his fiance has been killed in an auto accident caused by a gang of wild bikers. The vet calls on three of his war buddies to help in finding the gang members responsible and bring them to justice.

Lee Frost directs this interesting, if slightly disappointing entry in the biker movie genre. With such an awesome premise, the script has so much potential for pure unadulterated sleaze, yet never fully realizes the possibilities therein. The film isn't without interest, though. There's a lot to like in CHROME & HOT LEATHER (1971); some of the performances, the pretty girls and some well shot sequences. It being the 1970's, a PG rating usually would get away with nudity or violence that wouldn't fly in todays cinematic climate. However, there are ample opportunities for nudity and extreme violence, but amazingly, Frost avoids treading those lines.

Which makes it all the more odd in that Frost was a director of a number of soft core sleaze films and also what a lot of people consider the progenitor to the Naziploitation films, LOVE CAMP 7 (1969). Even still, there's enough violence here to hold ones interest, but most 70's exploitation fans will likely be disappointed with this one. One scene in particular is a sex scene between Mitch and Susan. There's the requisite nude scene, yet the camera obscures Kathrine Baumann's beautiful frame deciding to tease the audience with it instead.

Frost would also direct the fairly tame THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), a sci fi horror comedy that travels the outskirts of the blaxploitation genre about the head of a racist placed on the body of a black deathrow inmate. There's some amusing moments, a handful of racial slurs and a dynamite car chase plus William Smith in a cameo as a crazy prisoner. Frost showed a penchant for action in that film. That elaborate pre-BLUES BROTHERS police car smash up is more action packed than anything that takes place in Frost's Green Berets vs. Bikers opus.

What's really interesting about CHROME & HOT LEATHER is how similar the later Sam Raimi star vehicle, THOU SHALT NOT KILL...EXCEPT (1985) is to Frosts' movie. Both involve Vietnam vets facing a biker gang upon returning home. The difference is that one film is a rather pedestrian TV Movie of the Week style actioner while the other is a no budget gorefest. One of the things that hurts CHROME & HOT LEATHER (1971) is that the war buddies never go all out in their vengeance. They are simply working with the cops. The film totally misses exploitation greatness by passing up all the possibilities of this cool concept.

The military men use trickery to snag a great deal of military firepower such as rockets and ammo, but never use the weapons to kill, just to scare and capture the enemy. In fact, none of the gang dies at the end. They are all arrested after an explosive battle in a valley and a final fist fight in a cave between Mitch and Casey, who killed his fiance. Maybe Frost was going for a message of some sort? It's very bizarre considering this was AIP that they wouldn't push a seasoned veteran of sleaze to deliver the depraved delights inherent in the plot.

Stone faced Tony Young plays the lead, Mitch. He had a decent career in movies featuring in genre product like A MAN CALLED SLEDGE (1970), BLACK GUNN (1972) and THE RAPE SQUAD (1974). Young also played one of the main villains on the season three original STAR TREK episode, 'Elaan of Troyius'. He never quite comes off as a suitable foil for William Smith's character, T.J. He's got a good look, but his stagnant acting keeps him from rising above the already meager material. Probably the closest comparison would be fellow "actor", Richard Harrison. Both look like they're in a trance, or have been shot with a massive tranquilizer.

William Smith co-stars as T.J., the leader of 'The Wizards'. Smith is easily the best thing in this movie and lends the production its most memorable scenes. Smith had a magnetism onscreen that whether he was playing a good guy or a bad guy, you knew you were gonna see something special. He keeps this movie together and makes it worth watching. He's really not a villain here. He's more of an anti hero. Smith has had an amazing life that is just as exciting, if not exceedingly moreso than his cinematic endeavors.

Marvin Gaye is the same sensational singer from Motown who curiously tried his hand in Hollywood even doing some movie soundtracks like the blaxploitation hit, TROUBLE MAN (1972). He had a monumental musical career that was ended abruptly on April 1st, 1984 when his own father shot him twice in the chest.

Miss America runner up, Kathrine Baumann is a gorgeous stunner playing the girlfriend of the short fused Casey. Her character comes off like a small time girl that got mixed up with The Wizards by chance and not necessarily by choice. By the end, it's apparent she wants to leave. T.J. asks if she's staying or going and she asks, "Do you want me to stay?" There's never much of a chance to explore her character or really anybody else for that matter, at least not to any great lengths.

Minor players are Wes Bishop who was a frequent collaborator to director Frost working both behind and in front of the camera. Here, he plays the sheriff who wants The Wizards out of his town. This, too, is an idea with a lot of potential, but like so much of this well constructed story, nothing is really explored in any great detail. Bobby Pickett is the same Bobby "Boris" Pickett who sang the #1 hit back in 1962, 'Monster Mash'. Cheryl Ladd, later to be a member of the original CHARLIES ANGELS, has a bit role as Mitch's fiance.

CHROME & HOT LEATHER (1971) possesses an awesome title that teases a lot of exploitation greatness but delivers very little violent thrills. It's a tight story and it is entertaining, just that's a bit of a disappointment considering the talent involved as well as the storyline--soldiers versus bikers yields all kinds of sleazy spectacle. Unfortunately, Lee Frost didn't (or couldn't) steer his film in that direction. As it is, this AIP exploitation-lite production is definitely recommended to fans of William Smith. Far less demanding fans will find this of interest, but most everybody else will find this a slow exercise in tedium.

This review is representative of the MGM double feature DVD paired with the chopper chicks flick, THE MINI-SKIRT MOB.

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