Friday, November 27, 2020

The Choppers

The Choppers
Leigh Jason

Arch Hall Sr. and Arch Hall Jr. are an interesting movie team. Sr. created his own movie studio and used it largely to promote his son, Jr. The films were by and large low-budget and marketed towards the drive-in crowd. They served as a showcase for Arch Hall Jr.’s acting and musical skills. These films rose in public awareness after Eeegah! (1962) appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The quality of most of these films is questionable but I think Arch Hall Jr. is rather underrated when he is playing a villain or anti-hero. He can project a smooth cruel charm that makes him very watchable. I would argue his best role is as the Charlie Starkweather analog in The Sadist (1963) playing a true monster. The Choppers is interesting because his character, Cruiser, straddles the line between villain and squeaky-clean teen hero.

Pixar's Cars 4: Endgame

The plot of The Choppers is simple, a group of teens has a perfected system for stripping cars, they operate out of a chicken truck and sell their stolen goods to a local crooked junkyard owner. The police slowly start to close in on their operation as the kids continue their reign of mild terror. This stripped-down plot keeps things moving but at a cost. The story is hyper-focused on the crimes and police procedural of trying to catch them, but at the same time, the characters are paper-thin. We get a broad sketch of our criminal gang’s personalities and just a hint at their histories that have pushed them to this life but only just so much. I think in a more nihilistic film, there would be no reason needed for the crimes. These kids just seek a thrill and getting one over on all the adults gives them that feeling. Instead, The Choppers tries to hedge its bet by giving us a little melodrama behind the criminals but also present them as potential anti-heroes.

"Hey, you're Eegah from that movie aren't ya?"

Arch Hall Jr. is great here as Cruiser, a well-named character, he never loses his cool in the movie whether it is stripping a car on a desert highway, talking to a woman at a fast-food joint, or getting in a shoot out with the cops. Even after it is all said and done and the law has descended on him, he doesn’t crumple. He even gets out a last defiant line at the close of the film. The only bolder step would have let him get away with it, but culturally we weren't quite to the point where that would be something allowed in such a film

The Choppers is a fun juvenile delinquent story filled with some cool cars and an antiauthoritarian streak that makes for engaging viewing. Despite all the crime and action, it is still a lightweight affair and stands as one of the better Arch Hall Sr./Jr. collaborations. The next time someone wants to watch Eeegah! For the umpteenth time (I don’t know if that actually happens) give this one a try.

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