Tuesday, February 25, 2014
MOVIE REVIEW: Chrome and Hot Leather (1971)
It's 1971, and Mitch, a Sargent First Class in the Green Berets, is looking to return home and marry his fiance. He and three of his Green Beret buddies (one of whom, oddly, is played by Marvin Gaye) are out drinking after running some recruits through a combat exercise, when Mitch learns that his fiance and one of her friends was killed in an automobile accident.
We see the accident before he learns about it, in a scene where the Wizards, a large biker gang led by T.J. (played by the indomitable William Smith), encounter Mitch's girl and her friend driving down the highway. Casey, one of the Wizards, starts harassing the girls, and when they make a sudden turn off the road, she wipes out a couple of bikes. This enrages Casey, who goes after the girls and smashes their car's windshield with a chain (it's a really nasty-looking weapon, reminiscent of a medieval flail). The attack causes the girls to go off the road and over the edge of a cliff, and they crash. Another driver comes along and the bikers take off, but the good samaritan gets to the girls just in time to for Mitch's fiance to whisper "devils...devils". She's not referring to the name of the gang, but rather, their insignia - a smiling devil-face on the back of their cuts (aka, vests - I watch a lot of Sons of Anarchy).
Between the good samaritan's account of the bikers leaving the scene, and his fiance's last words, Mitch puts two and two together and starts trying to track down a biker gang called the Devils. Unfortunately, bikers don't take kindly to a bunch of medal-wearing, spit-and-polish military types going around asking questions about other gangs. Mitch and his buddies get the runaround, and it is clear that they'll need to find another way to track down the Devils.
This is where the movie gets interesting. See, Mitch and his friends are Green Berets, trained in unconventional warfare and out-of-the-box thinking. First, they go and buy themselves Kawasaki dirt bikes (not traditional "choppers", which is important later on during an off-road chase scene). Then they ditch their military uniforms for civilian biker attire. Next, they take a map of the area and break it down into quadrants, each man taking a quadrant of the map and agreeing to meet back after their reconnaissance mission at a predesignated time and place.
As usual, I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice to say, Chrome and Hot Leather was a pretty entertaining movie. Mitch and his fellow Green Berets carry out their mission of vigilante justice with military precision and special warfare-style tactics. There's a great moment when a couple of the GBs sneak up on some bikers in the dark and take them down, commando-style, that had me grinning. Later on in the film, there's a huge brawl between the GBs and the bikers, and although it is definitely a Hollywood-style fight, it's awesome to see the Green Berets go through the bikers like a scythe through wheat, clearly displaying superior unarmed-combat skills and dropping every biker with one or two carefully-placed blows.
The most interesting aspect of the film is how the "justice" is handled at the end. When I first started this movie, I was expecting a biker-gang version of Rolling Thunder, but instead the film takes a different turn, one that I feel is actually a lot more realistic. Mitch and his fellow soldiers are just that - soldiers - highly-trained, disciplined, and with strong moral values. Although they no doubt went through hell in Vietnam, the war is over for them, and as much as the action junkie in me wanted to see it, there is no "kill-crazy vets go on a bullet-blasting rampage!" in this film. These are guys in full control of themselves and their emotions. Coming at the tail end of the Vietnam war, I actually think this is a really interesting, perhaps even brave, decision on the part of the film makers, to portray these veterans without PTSD or other hang-ups, and show them in the best possible light.
So, if you have Netflix or Amazon Instant Streaming, I recommend checking this out. It was a little cheesy in parts (especially the almost comedic scene where the GBs learn how to handle their dirt bikes in some mud flats), but overall, a pretty cool and unusual addition to the "vigilante war hero" subgenre.