×

Easy Rider

None of the forced violence, lawlessness, rapist, gratuitous speed aspects of the motorbike clan in this perceptive film. It deals with two dropouts on a long trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans' Mardi Gras, a search for freedom thwarted by that streak of ingrained, bigoted violence in the U.S. and their own hangups.

With:
Capt. America - Peter Fonda Billy - Dennis Hopper George - Jack Nicholson Chief - Robert Walker, Jr. Girl - Luana Anders

None of the forced violence, lawlessness, rapist, gratuitous speed aspects of the motorbike clan in this perceptive film. It deals with two dropouts on a long trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, a search for freedom thwarted by that streak of ingrained, bigoted violence in the U.S. and their own hangups.

Peter Fonda is Captain America with the stars and stripes on his back, helmet and bright long-barrelled motorbike. His sidekick, Dennis Hopper, sports pioneer trooper buckskins, long mustache and hair. They pull a dope-selling deal in Mexico to get the stake that is to free them.

The Mardi Gras seems to be a symbol of free and easy meaning to them. Pic chronicles their trip that ends in tragedy. Their bikes whisk them through the good roads surrounded by all the stretches of land that have housed that mythic American creation of the western.

Film does not force parallels but they resemble men looking for some sort of new frontier, giving an ironic cast in a land now populated from seas to shining sea. The bikes, while part of them, are also a means of giving them movement and freedom. No dwelling on reasons, didactics or explanation of why they are what they are but filling it in on their long hegira.

They meet an amiable farmer, married to a Mexican woman, who invites them to lunch. Then they join a parade that gets them arrested for parading without a permit. In jail, they meet Jack Nicholson, scion of a well-to-do family and a confirmed alcoholic, who joins them on their trip.

Fonda and Hopper are inarticulate but seem to know they are looking for something, the freedom which money may give them and even some sort of inexplicable belief, be it religious or humanistic. They pick up the head of one of those communal clans that live off the land. Robert Walker Jr. etches a solid portrait as the group leader.

They enjoy it, but move on. In a small town, their long hair, bikes, and attire bring baleful response from the local sheriff and people when they go into a cafe to eat. As Nicholson explains it, when they bed down by a campfire, some people are afraid of people who seem different. It arouses resentment and hangups they may have in their own lives. The townspeople come out and beat them in their bedrolls, and Nicholson is killed.

They pay a visit to a bordello, festooned with religious imagery, and smoking pot, go to the Mardi Gras with two of the bagnio girls. This seg, shot in 16m, obviously, and blown up, catches the forced gaiety of the affair and ends with them on an LSD trip in a graveyard.

Riding on, but feeling they have not achieved what they wanted, two men in a truck try to scare them by pointing shotguns at them. Hopper’s disdain causes one to shoot and they hit Fonda whose bike seems to explode as the camera wheels up to the sky to show their burning bikes.

It is a wrenching, but fitting ending to the aborted trip. They meet good and bad, touching on that senseless violence that has led to assassination and sometimes heedless violence. Script is literate and incisive and Hopper’s direction is fluid, observant and catches the pictorial poetics with feeling.

Fonda exudes a groping moral force and Hopper is agitated, touching and responsive as the sidekick, hoping for that so-called freedom their stake should give them. Nicholson is excellent as the articulate alcoholic who fills in the smothered needs in a verbal way that the others feel but cannot express.

Fonda himself has given this a fine production dress, with associate Bert Schneider, and the brilliant lensing, excellent music background ballads, especially Bob Dylan’s “Easy Rider,” are fine counterpoints to this poetic trip along Southwest America. It is far above the usual films on this subject with probable appeal to younger and selective audiences and art playoff and regular chances looking bright.

Mosk.

1969: Nominations: Best Supp. Actor (Jack Nicholson), Original Story & Screenplay

Popular on Variety

Easy Rider

Production: Pando/Raybert. Director Dennis Hopper; Producer Peter Fonda; Screenplay Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern; Camera Laszlo Kovacs; Editor Donn Cambern, Henry Jaglom; Art Director Jerry Kay. Reviewed at Cannes Film Fest (Competing).

Crew: (Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1969. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: Capt. America - Peter Fonda Billy - Dennis Hopper George - Jack Nicholson Chief - Robert Walker, Jr. Girl - Luana Anders

More Film

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Romulus TV Show Italy

    Behind the Italian Scenes on Upcoming TV Blockbuster 'Romulus'

    On a hilly patch of greenery outside Rome, a group of extras is milling about in a meticulously reconstructed eighth century B.C. village wearing leather sandals, coarse red tunics and baseball caps. It’s scorching. The set is on a vast backlot on the grounds of the Cinecittà World theme park where during a period of [...]

  • James Wan's Horror Pic Adds George

    James Wan Finds Male Lead for His Next Horror Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    British actor George Young has landed the male lead role opposite Annabelle Wallis in James Wan’s top secret horror pic, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie, tentatively titled “Silvercup,” this fall before beginning preparations for DC’s “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details are currently being kept under [...]

  • Catch-22 Cinecitta BTS

    Rome's Cinecitta Makes Major Upgrades to Soundstages, Backlot

    Italy has always been attractive as a location, and now that increased global TV and film production is filling up soundstages around Europe, Rome’s Cinecittà is gunning to regain its global status as a top studio. The fabled facility, located on 99 acres of public land, had lost some of the luster of its 1950s [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. On Oct. 14, 1969, Variety reported that Warner Bros. bought the script by John Milius, [...]

  • Russell Crowe in 'Unhinged': First Look

    Russell Crowe Stars as an Angry Driver in First Look at 'Unhinged'

    Cut off Russell Crowe in traffic at your own peril! That’s the takeaway from the first look at “Unhinged,” an upcoming thriller that stars the Oscar-winning “Gladiator” actor as a man who takes road rage to frightening new levels. Crowe appears in the Solstice Studios release alongside Caren Pistorius, who portrays Rachel, a mother who [...]

  • 'Just Mercy,' 'Ford V Ferrrari' Tapped

    'Just Mercy,' 'Ford v Ferrari' Tapped for Hamptons Film Festival

    Awards contenders “Just Mercy” and “Ford v Ferrari” have been selected for showings at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Legal drama “Just Mercy,” starring Michael B. Jordan, will be the opening night film on Oct. 10 at Guild Hall. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content