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PINK ANGELS, THE



THE WRONG PARTY: A look at the mixed up world of “The Pink Angels” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

“The Pink Angels…they rode a lonely road marked “detour” through a straight world…a world that wouldn’t allow them to survive.”---From the trailer

Every movement for equality has its martyrs. Think of the brave souls who were shot and beaten in the quest for racial justice in the American South.  I want to pay tribute now to six of the most selfless heroes I know…Michael, David, Arnie, Henry, Eddie and Ronnie. Collectively they are known as The Pink Angels and these boys gave everything they had to make sure cross-dressing gay bikers everywhere are treated with respect and dignity.

1972’s “The Pink Angels” rates very high on the Doctor’s short list of most indescribable films ever made. It is truly in a world all of its own. I’ve been fascinated with learning more about this film since first reading about it in one of the the Medved Brothers’ snarky “Golden Turkey” books on “bad movies”. Until recently, the film was almost impossible to come by. Finally, I was able to snag it as part of the “Drive-In Cult Classics” DVD series. I put it in right away…and it’s still hard for me to describe exactly what I saw.

The late 60’s and early 70’s were the years when the outsider was in and rebels ruled the silver screen. The Establishment was under attack from every angle, particularly at the movies, and probably no single group embodied rebellion more than the bikers. “Easy Rider” and “The Wild Angels” opened the floodgates of two-wheeled revolution and rough, tough chopper freaks were everywhere. Sure, the hippies might have been the major face of the counterculture but bikers had an added aura of danger and action that made them box office dynamite. So from 66 to 76, low budget and exploitation film-makers latched onto the biker phenomenon with a vengeance.
Often the motorcycle men were portrayed as sleazy thugs and criminals but there was always the feeling of the antihero connected with them. Before long, we started to see interesting variations on the usual biker stereotypes. We had female bike gangs, all black bikers, even undead bikers and of course, “Werewolves on Wheels”.  But nobody before or after has offered the kind of ultimate rebels we see in Larry Brown’s “The Pink Angels”.

In the late 60’s, the walls finally started to crack when the topics of homosexuality and alternate lifestyles came up. To be sure, they were still VERY taboo, but at least they were on the table. The weird avant-garde flicks of Kenneth Anger and Mike Kuchar dove into gay subjects with gusto, but those were little seen by the general public. Sex, nudity and outright pornography were now part of the film landscape but movies with gay or cross-dressing characters were not too common, the brave experiments of Ed Wood Jr. notwithstanding.

“The Pink Angels” is actually a very logical result when you want to combine two rebellious subcultures into one. But you couldn’t possibly find two groups further apart on the spectrum than the rugged, ultra-manly rebel bikers and the effeminate drag queens of gay culture. That’s where the fun of “The Pink Angels” comes in. This movie embraces the stereotypes of both groups…and flips them on their heads. For the most part, it’s a light-hearted if naughty comedy…until we reach the devastating ending, which again throws everything we’ve seen previously into a cocked hat.

I’ve never really seen anything like it. It was 20 more years before movies like “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” somewhat addressed the same subject. But no other movie ever made is like “The Pink Angels”. Is it a “bad” movie? In some ways, yes, it’s awful. But in many ways, it’s competently acted, well directed and professional. Not to mention funny. There are other biker movies from the period that are a lot uglier and more threadbare. But it’s an exploitation film aimed at the drive-in audience for sure. What folks made of this on its original release, I would really like to see. I can’t imagine how the Deep South would have handled this in 1972!
There are rumors that executive producer Gary Razdat made “The Pink Angels” as the result of a bet. In many ways, the finished product seems to bear this out. The plot is so thin it’s barely there and a lot of the movie’s comedy scenes seem to be improvised. A lot of “road” movies tend to be light on plot and in many ways, “The Pink Angels” is a road movie. And then there’s the ending. I’ve seen some abrupt and shocking endings to films before, particularly 70’s films, but nothing as brutal as what we get here. Was the ending intentional or was it simply whipped out because the movie’s makers ran out of money? We will talk about that in depth later. Suffice it to say, the ending is what pushes “The Pink Angels” from being an unconventional comedy to a prime example of “WTF?” film-making.

OK, humanoids, consider yourselves warned. There are major SPOILERS ahead including that punch in the gut ending. There’s no real way to discuss “The Pink Angels” honestly without delving into that aspect of the movie. So be aware!

Let’s get those hogs humming and make sure our lipstick is in place as we ride further into the mixed up world of THE PINK ANGELS!

The first scene of the movie is weird and ominous, very much different to the general light tone of the film. We are in a very palatial mansion at night, as what looks like a group of female figures and their scruffy male companions make their way into an outdoor area. This place is already occupied by an odd group of very solemn and somewhat shocked figures. One is dressed like a priest, there are some beautiful women and there’s a goat! Is some sort of odd ritual taking place? We take a closer look at the “girls” who have just entered and it becomes rather obvious that they are guys in drag.

There’s an uncomfortable moment as the newcomers joke around and ask where the party is. The severe looking leader of the residents is at a loss. The leader of the “girls” laughs, kisses him on the lips and says “Lord love ya!”, adding “Come on, this has got to be the wrong party…” We get a freeze frame and the last word echoes. This whole scene is creepy and confusing, but all is made clear by the end of the film.

Cut to a scene in broad daylight in the middle of a desert. In a landscape dominated by giant concrete cylinders, a group of rough looking men slowly assembles. Some wear Confederate flags and a big, burly bearded one even sports swastikas. These are some tough customers, that’s for sure. They load into some choppers with sidecars and head out onto the highway as the credits roll and the theme song plays. We have just met The Pink Angels!

The composition of these opening biker scenes is pretty impressive. We are not dealing with rank amateurs behind the camera (for the most part). As for the theme song, it’s a sort of folky bit of Americana with corny lyrics like “I see America, she’s just around the bend/Star Spangled Banner, just lookin’ for a friend”. There are multiple levels of irony with this song, which is typical of the “hippie” era but only upon the incredible ending of the movie do they all become clear.

The Angels soon ride out and pick up a young male hitch-hiker, who is pretty nervous about thumbing a ride with such burly customers. If he only knew! Actually, that doesn’t take too long. The gang makes a pit stop at an old A & W (very cool nostalgia seeing one of these!) and their gruff leader Michael demands hot dogs, fries and drinks from a terrified waitress. The hitch-hiker soon notices some of the conversation of the bikers doesn’t seem to match their image. Then Henry blows him a kiss and whispers an invitation to him. It dawns on the hitch-hiker, who stares into the camera and stutters “You! You’re all…FAGGOTS!” He takes off across the road in terror, as the Angels drop their act and get involved in an honest-to-Truman-Capote food fight, spraying themselves with condiments and drinks and finally laughing at each other due to the absurdity of the situation.

The message behind the hitch-hiker is clear. He was brave enough to ride with what looked like a gang of criminals and Nazis, but the thought of traveling with HOMOSEXUALS was too much to endure! This whole scene gave me a good chuckle and is a fine example of the film’s ribald yet gentle humor.

We have six pretty distinct personalities in the group.  Michael is the leader and he does a pretty good job of pretending to be the stoic tough guy while in actuality he’s a pure drag queen. The sassiest and prissiest of the Angels by far is Henry, who looks nasty but is better suited as a catty fashionista. He’s the quickest with his mouth and ultimately that gets them in the worst kind of trouble. Robert Biheller is a scream in the role. Ronnie is the sole black member of the gang but is really the “Queen” who’s going to be the star attraction at the big party the boys are headed to. David looks like the most “presentable” of the bikers but is just as swishy as the rest, only he seems to be very accident prone. The biggest, nastiest biker is Arnie, who sports swastikas and a huge beard. In reality, the beard is a fake and he has the erudite speech of an English major. His “partner” is Eddie, who tries to look mean, but is a harmless Englishman who writes love poetry and comes across like a biker John Lennon. These are the Pink Angels!

The boys (?) hit the road and seem to be enjoying the experience when they get a little fresh and make an obscene gesture to some police. The fuzz immediately hit the sirens and take off in pursuit. The lead officer reports to headquarters: “We are in pursuit of 20 heavily armed bikers, possibly with hostages.” His partner remarks, “I think there were only six.” The first cop repeats, “We are in pursuit of approximately 20 bikers…” That sounds about right.

Hilarity ensues when the police catch up. The following is an exchange between a gruff Michael and the officer in charge:

“Where you men headed?”

“Down the coast.”

“L.A.?”

“That’s right.”

“Where you coming from?”

“Up the coast.”

“What are you gonna do in LA?”

“Ball.”

“Ball?”

“We’re going to a ball. A party. A cotillion.”

“Co-cotillion?” He aims his gun. “Hold it right there!”

That brings Henry’s dander up. “You cops think you can run everything with your badges and guns! Well this is one red-blooded American faggot who’s not afraid of you!”
The police by now are very uneasy, sensing they’ve got more than the “usual” bikers. They ask for I.D. Everybody but Eddie has some. The only thing Eddie’s got with his name on it is love poetry he wrote for Arnie. When one of the cops looks at some locked luggage, Michael jokes “It’s full of some kilos of hash, eight bags of cocaine and some uppers.” “Open it up!” the lead cop demands and Michael complies. The younger cop looks inside. “What the hell is this?” He holds up a piece of fancy lingerie. Ronnie now becomes very angry. “It’s a Maidenform and it’s mine! Take your dirty pig hands off it!”

The cops surrender. “Alright take your stuff and get out of here.” The lead cop says in disgust. Looks like the Pink Angels have made it past their first real obstacle.

We now get a strange interlude that introduces us to a character known only as The General. A pompous military man in an outfit dripping with ribbons, located in a bunker with a giant map marked “Top Secret” and featuring red, white and blue markings. It doesn’t take long to realize this is the kind of right wing kook that today might be called an “Oath Keeper” or a “Tea Party Patriot”. He’s on the lookout for enemies that will “infiltrate” America and has his own plans to take care of them. We hear him on the phone to what’s apparently a US Senator, saying “I’d love to get my hand on some of those long-haired bastards”. The General pops up at odd points in the story, with the appearances not making any sense until the devastating final minutes of the movie. Also note The General’s female assistant Hildegard, who sports one of the most outrageous bouffant hairdos you’ll ever see.

Meanwhile, the Angels have taken a pit stop at one of those quirky places you’d used to see on old Route 66. They stop in to get gas, grab a few snacks and have a beer. Michael tells the gas station attendant to check the oil, the plugs and oh, maybe fluff up the tires. Arnold and Eddie pick up some cans of “Manhandler” soup after much bickering. Then it becomes apparent that this place is also a whorehouse. A bevy of working girls, some pretty enticing, others way over the hill, tries to make their move on what they think are macho bikers eager for nookie. But these are the Pink Angels and if anything, they’re revolted by the female attention and take off in a huff, leaving some confused hookers behind.

After some more road tripping, the guys stop at a remote roadside spot for a bit of a picnic. Henry and David are chosen to lay out the picnic table, with includes candles, flowers and champagne. Michael confesses to Arnie that “I never really knew my Dad”, to which Arnie replies “For Heaven’s sake, why not?” “He was always in drag,” answers Michael, leading to laughter all around.

Unfortunately for our heroes, some REAL bikers now show up at the same location. Their leader is well-known tough guy actor Michael Pataki, sporting a crazy knit cap and sunglasses. One of the other gang is none other than Dan Haggerty, who in a few years would go on to play mountain man Grizzly Adams on TV. Here he looks amazingly fit and sculptured. The Pink Angels are going to have to bluff their way past these real chopper freaks. “Where’s your broads?” grates Pataki’s character. “Where’s yours?” answers Michael. “We pick ours up on on the way, “ says Spike (which is what I’ll call Pataki’s character from now on). “So do we.” mutters Michael. “Dave, why don’t you go pick them up?”  A flustered Dave runs rather daintily back to one of the bikes…he has to go back to the gas station to pick up the hookers the boys spurned earlier.


Just when things are starting to get a little tense, Dave returns…with literally a whole truck packed full of hookers. Michael offers them to Spike and his gang as a peace offering and now a wild party breaks out with booze, sex and rowdy horseplay. The “madam” of the girls, who looks about 60, goes after Spike like a wild animal and he responds in kind as Michael laughs in disbelief. Dan Haggerty’s brawny biker hooks up with a pretty hot black chick, who coos “black is not only beautiful…it’s good”. Little sissy Henry gets tough with one of the girls, snarling “Are you ready for ten pounds of dangling fury?” in a gravelly voice. His tryst is so violent that the hooker probably never notices they had no actual sex.

This orgy/party scene probably drags on a little too long, with more happy hippy music in the background, but it brings a real smile to my face watching these folks cut loose. These are the freaks and losers of society…bikers, whores, gays…coming together for a good time. There’s something really joyous about this party…which contrasts it drastically with the “society” party we see at the beginning…and end…of “The Pink Angels”.

Now apparently the Pink Angels can either handle their liquor a lot better than the “real” bikers or else they are masters at making it look like they can. Spike’s gang has passed out after the revels and wakes up with probably one hell of a hangover. The Pink Angels have already left, but they provided one last surprise for Spike’s boys. The tough bikers now have ribbons in their hair and a full makeup job including lipstick and mascara! At first they laugh uproariously at themselves. And then Spike sees what he looks like in a reflection and growls “I’ll KILL those bananas!” They jump on their bikes in hot pursuit of the Angels.

Speaking of which, they are cruising down the highway towards LA and having a laugh at what they’ve been able to pull so far. Then Ronnie’s bike comes up lame. The plugs have gone out. Hapless Dave is nominated to grab a lift with a lady motorist to try and get new spark plugs. This results in another aimless and surely improvised scene where Arnie tries to hypnotize a horse with his ironcross necklace. Dave then returns…wearing just his underwear. “ I was RAPED for these friggin’ spark plugs!” he sputters but a grin says he may have enjoyed the encounter. The boys hit the road again.

At last they arrive at the hotel where they’ll be staying for the big drag queen cotillion. Michael really enjoys playing the tough guy, as he terrorizes the nerdish hotel clerk into getting the guys rooms on the 10th floor. Then they realize that they no longer have the luggage containing their dresses for the ball. The “Real” Bikers have probably got them by mistake. Disgusted they know they have to hit the town to get substitute evening wear. Still looking tough and mean, Michael walks into a dress shop and tells the befuddled clerk that some girls will be coming to shop for dresses soon. Meanwhile, Dave, Ronnie and Henry head into a store to get lipstick, makeup and other sundries. These guys are apparently getting tired of the biker shtick, as they sound like ladies from the quilting club. This leads to a lot of confusion from store patrons, who realize they should be scared of these men….but not exactly why.


Arnie and Eddie are back at the hotel, which has got to be the weirdest place on Earth. Eddie places a room service call to get “something tall and cool and soothing to Arnie’s throat”. What they get is a mostly naked gum-chewing blonde with a New Jersey accent carrying two stiff drinks. Now that’s what I call room service! The bimbo immediately asks “You guys want any dope?” Eddie replies, “Arnie, do we want any dope?” The big man answers that she’s talking to him, so it’s his choice. “What kind of dope do you have?” asks Eddie. She gives a long list of drugs including nitrous oxide, but the two rough dudes decide that drinks will be enough. Mystified, the girl makes sure they get a good look at her assets, but these fellows will have none of it. This is one of the strangest scenes in the movie, not helped by the fact that the boom mike is clearly visible for most of it. Hard to believe director Larry Brown didn’t catch that. 

Ronnie, Henry and Dave are on all-out girl’s shopping spree, dropping all pretense of being bikers. Henry and Dave have a catty argument over which dress makes Ronnie look better and then they pick up some fashionable footwear at a shoe store, with Ronnie already wearing his dress while Dave and Henry are still in biker regalia. One thing that’s interesting about these shopping scenes is that all the store clerks and patrons seem to be 100% authentic real people.I get the impression that director Brown and crew just set up shop in real locations on the fly, letting the actors “wing” it. The result is not what you’d call knee-slapping funny but it will bring a smile to your face.

At last, we see our heroes in the hotel lounge in their “natural” gear…dressed in drag to the hilt. The Pink Angels are no more, our belles are ready for the ball. Only Ronnie might actually fool anybody into thinking he was a woman….the rest look pretty obviously TV. Henry can’t resist a bitchy quip: “Arnie, do you know you look like Oliver Hardy?” He actually does, which brings good-natured laughter from the gang. They’ll need it, because guess who just showed up at the lounge ready for a fight? Spike and his gang. One of those happy coincidences that happens only in comedies…although how happy it is will remain to be seen.

As I said, the Angels in drag wouldn’t fool most real people. But Spike and Company aren’t real people. These guys are as dense as concrete and while they are troubled by the Angels’ appearance, they don’t make the connection to the “bananas” that humiliated them earlier. “Goddamn, is that one ugly” grunts one, but they waste no time introducing themselves to the “ladies”. Now Michael becomes Michelle, Henry is Henrietta, Eddie is Edwina, etc, etc.

Before long, the two sides are getting along great and then “Michelle” mentions “the big party”. That gets the interest of the bikers and before you know it, the “girls” are headed to the big “cotillion” with Spike and his gang. Spike is now sporting a very sharp looking military cap and has “Michelle” riding behind him…the same guy that got him to pass out and then applied makeup to him. The “boys” have no idea what kind of party they are really headed to….sadly, neither do the “girls”. I wonder what motorists that passed this cavalcade of Hell’s Angels lookalikes with cocktail dress drag queens riding shotgun thought at the time.

This entourage drives past what looks like a well-to-do mansion with a pseudo-military guy apparently taking a leak in front of it. When this fellow gets a look at the bike gang that just rode past, he runs over to the mailbox…and pulls out a rotary phone. That phone connects him to “The General”, who is still plotting something big in his flag-festooned underground bunker. “They’re on their way…and they’ve got girls!” the sentry tells him.  The General tells him to make sure they “go through the South gate. I want to take them alive!”

Next scene is early evening as the rowdy bikers and their “girlfriends” pull up in front of a posh mansion. This is where the movie started. They make their way inside and apparently have the same odd encounter with the “party-goers” that we saw earlier. I just wonder if this is some kind of “Bohemian Grove”ritual for super-right-wingers. Once “Michelle” kisses that stern looking dude, the gang turns away and heads back outside. But they get stopped by miitia men with guns yelling “Freeze or Die!”

****************************MAJOR SPOILERS HERE!************************************

“Henrietta”, still in drag, is brought into the General’s command center which has a giant Patton-sized flag on the wall. The General is no smarter than Spike and his boys: he has no clue he’s talking to a cross-dresser. “I feel bad about you being dragged into this,Miss,” he says “But you can help me take back our country from these thugs. Tell me everything you know about them and you girls can go.”

“Girls?” snaps Henry, taking off his wig and standing up defiantly. “There are no “girls” here, honey!” The General stands up in shock and his eyes go crazy as he turns to the camera and declares: “FAGGOTS!”

We then hear The General’s voice again saying “Nothing I’d like better than to get some of these long-haired bastards”. He is standing outside looking smug and proud and smacking his hand with a riding crop. The camera pulls back and we see he is standing in front of a magnificent old tree. And from that tree are hanging the bodies of some people in dresses and some in biker gear. We hear Michael’s voice echoing “We’re at the wrong party” as the camera continues to pull back. The Pink Angels ride has come to a tragic and abrupt end.


We hear the happy soundtrack again: “I see America, she’s just around the bend/Star spangled banner, just looking for a friend” and see replayed images from earlier in the movie. Then all we hear is a lonely wind blowing as the screen fades to black.

WHAT THE F@#$?

I remember sitting slack-jawed for several minutes after watching the movie for the first time. THAT was the ending? I had a feeling something bad might happen, but ALL of the Angels getting hung? It felt like a punch in the gut. Especially after the movie had such a breezy and light-hearted feeling for the preceding 88 minutes or so.
What exactly happened here? Did the film-makers simply run out of cash and rush out the most absurd wrap up they could think of? That has been the theory of many. But I think it was planned this way all along. Sure, a lot of the movie seems to be improvised and done on the fly, but remember, this was the age when heroes died hard. A lot of “The Pink Angels” seems to be a parody of “Easy Rider”. Well, we all remember how “Easy Rider” ended.  Apparently the makers of “The Pink Angels” wanted to take that ending and ramp it up to levels of complete insanity.

The whole scenario is absurd. Of COURSE it is. I could not imagine the Angels going so meekly to their own deaths even though they seem like pretty harmless guys. And for sure, Spike and his fellow bikers (especially Dan Haggerty) are not going to go down without a fight and just stick their heads in a noose. And what exactly is going on here anyway? The General and the shadowy militia he represents seem to have been waiting to get any “long haired bastards” i.e. bikers in their clutches. How is it, then, that the Pink Angels wind up at the General’s compound by mistake? A coincidence? Or was the entire drag queen cotillion also cooked up to get rid of “faggots” as well?

The statement being made here is as heavy handed and nihilistic as any movie you’ll ever see. There is no way for the misfits and outlaws of society to enjoy themselves and get away with it. Everything in our “star spangled” country seems to be a trap designed to squash rebellion. Like the Angels, you better live it up while you can, because you will eventually get crushed.

That’s a real heavy message. Especially for a movie supposedly written by a WOMAN. That’s right. Credits list Margaret McPherson as a screenwriter. Is it really a woman….or maybe just a pseudonym for a guy that might be in the same boat as The Angels? We will probably never know for sure.

That jaw-dropping ending is what pushes “The Pink Angels” to another level of psychotronic film-making. The story of drag queens disguised as bikers is unconventional enough, but the bleak finish to the story is what will stay with you for a long, long time. Just like it will with me.

God bless Michael, Arnie, Eddie, Ronnie, Dave and Henry. They took a chance and had the time of their lives…literally! R.I.P., The Pink Angels!