Rebel Rousers presents a time capsule to the days when three young actors were on the rise to cult status, one of whom would become an icon of the industry, Jack Nicholson. Bruce Dern and Harry Dean Stanton also star in this pre Easy Rider motorcycle gang thriller that is less than thrilling in the end but offers up a taste of the drive-in fare that was populated by the cycle flicks of the era.
Slumming Cameron Mitchell whose best days were behind him takes above the title billing as an architect tracking down his pregnant girlfriend in Chloride, Arizona where the movie was filmed. He’s making an attempt to do the right thing and have her agree to marry him before the child is born a bastard. His words. As are these romantic specials, “You’re so bright and you’re so stupid and a little bit stupid about this.” Bruce Dern’s real life wife, Diane Ladd played the part and guess what. According to Dern’s autobiography, Ladd was indeed pregnant at the time with their daughter and future film star, Laura Dern.
Dern and his gang of cyclists arrive in the Arizona town that looks run down and uninhabited. It’s no wonder cause today it’s pretty much a ghost town according to various internet sources. The gang hit a local cantina and in 60’s fashion begin to party hard. Mixed into the fun are some biker ladies on the bar minus some clothing dancing and writhing to the music, the boys are cracking beers and you’ll spot old Harry Dean hugging a guitar. Anyone that knows the career of the late Stanton knows he played the instrument and sang in plenty of his motion picture appearances.
Looking for anything to rebel against, the gang doesn’t quite have the success of Brando’s Wild One. At gunpoint from a local deputy the gang are thrown out of town. Dern tries to keep it peaceful but in the end, the gang ride out and hit the beach at Malibu. I checked the maps, that’s over 6 hours from Chloride so it would appear as if Chloride is subbing for some town near the beach front. Either way, the boys are looking for trouble and Dern can’t hold them back. When Mitchell and Ladd drive down to the beach attempting to reconcile their differences they’re about to be confronted by Dern’s loose cannons.
It’s at this point that Nicholson’s character will be the head trouble maker. The gang more or less forces Mitchell and Ladd to join them on the beach and when the leather jacket clad goons begin to paw at Ladd, Cameron steps in only to be pistol whipped, kicked and beaten into unconsciousness. Dern can no longer control Nicholson and company and though he couldn’t prevent Mitchell’s beating, he sets out to prevent the rape of Ladd by suggesting a contest. The winner will win her so it’s off to the motorbikes and the races begin amongst themselves to see who is the fastest rider. Inevitably this will set up a Bruce vs. Jack final for the ladies lovely hand.
If only Bruce can win. If he can’t then let’s keep our fingers crossed that Mitchell comes around and can gather some help from the community to get his girl back before she winds up married to Nicholson following the reading of a few blurbs out of the Harley Davidson manual serving as a bible of sorts. If Nicholson is to be the groom than don’t be surprised if his long time off screen pal, Stanton, is named as the best man in this farcical marriage ceremony.
Come on Cameron! Hurry up!
Rebel Rousers was directed by Dern and Ladd’s manager of the moment, Martin B. Cohen. It’s his only directorial credit though he did produce some low budget features including an Al Adamson quickie and another feature that gave Mitchell a chance to ham it up, Nightmare in Wax. Rousers was shelved initially but miraculously resurrected following the rise of Jack in Easy Rider and subsequently released theatrically in 1970. This explains Jack’s prominent billing on the posters and lobby cards.
The big story here for film buffs is the Dern-Nicholson-Stanton connection. Dern and Jack would star in a number of films together including 1972’s The King of Marvin Gardens and Jack would star Bruce in one of his few directing efforts, Drive, He Said in 1971. Harry would appear in a number of Jack’s movies for years ranging from Ride In the Whirlwind (again with Cameron Mitchell scoring top billing) to Man Trouble and sit with him at more than a few Laker’s Games.
Looking to see Dern play a semi-reasonable guy who isn’t as nutty as he was often cast at this time? Looking to see Jack in the weirdest pair of pants he ever wore on screen this side of his Joker? Looking to see Harry Dean as a suit and tie biker who appears to be headed to a political rally with the pinned on buttons to prove it? Or maybe you’re just a Cameron Mitchell fan who needs to see every role he ever played from his studio days in the 50’s to his low budget efforts that found him slumming in low budget fare. If you’ve answered yes to any one of those four scenarios then this is the one you have just got to see so hop on your Harley and head on over to a local video store if you can find one and grab yourself a copy. If not then there’s always the vault here at Mike’s Take where there is bound to be a copy on the shelf I might let you borrow if you can find me a pair of those Jack Nicholson duds.