Ah, Angel, my favorite prostitute. This series of films were produced by Roger Corman’s company, New World pictures, and have acquired quite a mass following over the years. I had heard of them for a long time, but never got around to buying them. That was until my scholarship gave me $100 left over from the school year, and I decided to give this flicks a chance. Let’s delve into this sleazy but dramatic world that is The Angel films.
The original Angel deals with a young prep student named Molly (Donna Wilkes) who moonlights at night as a teenage prostitute named Angel, so that she can take care of her ailing mother (or so it would seem). She hangs around with other prostitutes and street performers in the Sunset Strip, including transvestite Mae (Dick Shawn), a yo-yo guy who looks like Charlie Chaplin and a cowboy played by Rory Calhoun (Motel Hell). Not only do we see her struggles as she tries to keep her profession a secret and the constant lookout for the cops, led by lieutenant Andrews (Cliff Gorman), she also has a serial killer to deal with who’s been murdering prostitutes. Feeling unprotected, Molly decides to take matters into her own hands, and with the help of the performers, will soon take down the killer herself.
This is the best in the series, by far. The main reason that this movie is so damn great is because of the cast. We have a series of misfits played by a really great ensemble cast, as the ones mentioned above, plus others like the always great Susan Tyrell, who plays a lesbian dyke (as she calls herself). They all have great chemistry together and we are able to relate to them easily. The casting of Donna Wilkes is spot-on, since she does look like a fourteen year old (even if she was 24). There’s also the killer, who is very similar to the ones in movies like Vice Squad, but particularly Ferrara’s Fear City, the silent bodybuilder type, although here it’s much more serious than in Fear City. Like the two previous films, the cinematography is gritty and you really feel like you’re right there with the characters. This movie deserves more than enough of it’s praise and cult status, and comes highly recommended.
The second film deals with Molly, now in college, trying to have a normal life. This is all gone to hell when her mentor and father figure, Lieutenant Andrews, is murdered during a mob hit. Not trusting the police, she joins again with the gang of misfits from the sunset strip, including the returning Susan Tyrell and Rory Calhoun, into taking down the mob and making the streets safe again.
This movie is truly inferior to the original in most ways. The main problem is it’s plot and tone. We went from a gritty film in the original to something that’s more of a comedic buddy comedy, and what’s with these character’s morals? You mean it’s ok to be a prostitute, a pimp, and scam people in the streets, as long as you’re doing it independently and not with a crime organization involved? Give me a break. Most of the cast is good in their roles, and it was fun to see Tyrell and Calhoun again in their roles, particularly Calhoun who plays it up even more. He seems to have had a blast making the film. Sadly these are the only standouts. The Molly and Andrews characters are replaced from the original actors, first with Robert Lyons as Andrews, playing him as a happy, friendly cop instead of the gritty, angry cop of the original. Then there’s the Molly/Angel character, who’s now played by Betsy Russell. As you might remember, Ms. Russell played the topless horse rider in the 80’s comedy classic Private School, and the lead cheerleader in Cheerleader Camp. She’s not a very good actress, and is uninteresting and boring in the role, compared to the original played by Donna Wilkes.
Then there’s the new characters. One, the new police commissioner, is played by the always Ossie Davis, and he gives his film some real class, and wished his role would have been bigger. Then there’s Johnny Glitter, played by Grease T-Bird Barry Pearl, who looks ridiculous and has one of the most annoying characters in history. Throwing glitter all over the place, you really long to watch the kick-ass tranny played by Dick Shawn in the original. I hoped for his death, but it never came. Add to this the boring story and weird morals, and you’ll see they really missed the ball on this one.
Angel III: The Final Chapter came out in 1988, and again we see Molly/Angel returning to Los Angeles after working as a freelance photographer. By pure coincidence she is able to meet up with her long lost mother, who is having some sort of crime problem. Soon her mother is killed with a time-bomb, and her sister, who she hasn’t met, has gone missing. Soon, Molly takes on the persona of Angel again, this time to take down a crime syndicate involved in pornography, prostitution and drug trafficking.
After the disappointing Angel II: Avenging Angel, this was a huge improvement, for sure. While not as dark as the original, it’s definitely more in the exploitative angle. The fact that it’s an anti-porn film adds to the hilarity of things at hand. Like in Part II, we get a different actress playing Molly/Angel, this time it’s model Mitzi Kapture. I know her name sounds made up but hey maybe it is. She’s way better than Betsy Russell, and plays up the mature angle well, I mean I felt it believable that this was a character that had been through a lot. She wasn’t as tragic or as well-written as the first one, but I forgive it. Sadly, a lot of the original cast, like Rory Calhoun and Susan Tyrell, are gone in this film, but we do get some new cool actors. Richard Roundtree (Shart) and Dick Miller (Bucket Of Blood, Gremlins) are excellent in bit parts, but my favorite by far is Maud Adams, Octopussy herself, in the role of the evil Nadine. This movie has a lot of action and exploitative elements without being too dramatic, making it the most entertaining after the first part.
So as a final analysis, the first film is a masterpiece of cult/exploitation cinema, and Part III is very entertaining. Part II is pretty forgettable, however. There is a fourth part, called Angel IV: Undercover, but I haven’t been able to find that one. Even still, as a trilogy it’s a pretty entertaining series and comes highly recommended.