The year there was Easy Rider, there was also a movie by a guy named Lee Madden. And, word came this week that Lee Madden died of pneumonia on April 9th in Camarillo, California.
Lee Madden was born in Brooklyn, New York and he worked briefly as an actor before deciding that the real money was made behind the camera. He ended up with a production company, named Lee Madden Associates, that made industrial training and marketing films and produced television commercials for automobile companies.
Before that Lee Madden worked as a television director on shows like Cade’s County with Glenn Ford, Bearcats which starred Rod Taylor and The Most Deadly Game with Ralph Bellamy.
Before that he made the sort of low-budget motion pictures that used to be popular at drive-in movie theaters. His horror film, The Night God Screamed starred the once famous, blonde waif Jeanne Crain. He wrote and directed Night Creature which starred Donald Pleasance. He also wrote and directed Angel Unchained which was a biker remake of the cowboy movie The Magnificent Seven.
Hell’s Angels ‘69
But, Lee Madden will always be most remembered, at least by people who did not love him, for his first film. It was called Hell’s Angels ’69. That’s right. With an apostrophe. The studio, American International Pictures, wanted it spelled that way. That film starred Tom Stern, Jeremy Slate, Conny Van Dyke, Steve Sandor and some other fellows whose names you might know, Sonny Barger, Terry the Tramp and the original Oakland Hells Angels.
It is Sonny Barger’s only dramatic screen role and he is, surprisingly, not a bad actor, which is to the credit of Lee Madden. You can still see the film on DVD. It is probably the gentlest and least sinister portrayal of the Angels ever made. It is a sort of a biker version of A Hard Day’s Night.
Slate and Stern, who must have acted in at least half of the 60s biker films, played a couple of outlaws from Boston who trick the Angels into helping them rob Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. The Boston bikers make off with $600 thousand. The Angels get nothing out of the deal except trouble. And, then they go hunting for the two greedy dogs who used them and left them with their pockets empty. From this vantage in history, it is almost tempting to think that the Angels were sending a big shout out to Hunter Thompson who became rich and famous from writing about them and left them with nothing but notoriety.
Madden’s movie was released the same year as Easy Rider but it did not take itself nearly as seriously as that more famous film. Arguably, the best scene in Angels ’69 is the one in which Terry the Tramp sells his old lady for a pack of cigarettes, discovers that the pack is almost empty and still thinks he got the best of the deal.
A guy named Lee Madden imagined that and showed it to all the rest of us.
Among his survivors is his son David Madden who is the Executive Vice-President of Programming at Fox Television.
Lee Madden was 82-years-old.
Requiescat In Pace