Certainly one of the least arresting of the many biker films of this turbulent era The Cycle Savages combines bits of both Hell’s Angels on Wheels and Easy Rider but fails to capture much of the zeitgeists that made that pair perennial viewings. Bruce Dern stars as Keeg, a nasty criminal sort (modeled in part after Charles Manson) whose control over his biker horde is nothing less than total. Among those under his spell is the beautiful Lea (Melody Patterson) who, while not directly a member of the gang, is both terrified and fascinated by Keeg. When Keeg spots handsome local artist Romko (Chris Robinson) sketching both Lea and his own two wheeled gang he becomes obsessed with protecting the secretive nature of their behavior. It turns out that in addition to certain drug activities-presented with remarkable precision and honesty not typical of the time-Keeg’s group is also central to a prostitution ring operated from a distance by his older brother (Casey Kasem, who also serves as the film’s executive producer). Keeg’s misogyny and nastiness are forefront to the story; at one point he demonstrates his dominance by telling his second-in-command that woman are good for only two things; “whoring and crying.” He then proceeds to beat his girlfriend Sandy (Maray Ayres, also known for her longtime role on General Hospital) with a belt before allowing his troop to savagely gang rape her.
There’s some pretty heavy and thoughtful stuff going on but whatever promise The Cycle Savages brings to the table is undermined by the weak script and uninspired direction of B Movie veteran Bill Brame. Neither Patterson nor Dern, who spends half the movie looking as if he cannot wait to go home and conceive his daughter, are given much to work with. The various character motivations are uncertain while the tenuous relationship between Keeg and Lea is never made clear. Several neighborhood locals, including the stereotyped friendly bartender (“I don’t want no trouble”) and equally stereotyped fallen from grace alcoholic doctor-charged with patching up Keeg’s victims-seem powerless to report his criminal actions. Their collective fear of Keeg and hatred of the police is largely unconvincing. Of course in the end Lea and Romko fall in love and Sandy, pushed to the point of no return, finally breaks free and delivers Keeg his just desserts.
I’ve long had a fascination with the biker films of this period, and the myriad ways in which they reflect the dramatic social shifts of the day. But The Cycle Savages, in failing to address those concerns, ends up being little more than a reasonably pleasant diversion and missed opportunity.
Did you know? Melody Patterson was not yet 16 when she auditioned for F Troop! The producers were so impressed with her bravado that they created the character of Wrangler Jane, who regularly took in stray animals, just for her. Addendum: In a cruel twist of fate the lovely Ms. Patterson past away just last night. RIP Wrangler Jane.