The film tells the exploits of the "Angels", a California motorcycle gang led by Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda), and their adventures while looking out for their member Loser (Bruce Dern). Nancy Sinatra and Diane Ladd also appear as Blues' girlfriend Mike and Loser's wife Gaysh, respectively.
This was the first film to associate Peter Fonda with Harley-Davidson motorcycles and 1960s counterculture, being made three years before Easy Rider. In fact, Fonda got the idea for that movie after seeing a picture of himself and Dern on their motorcycles in this movie.
This film features examples of:
- All Bikers Are Hells Angels: All the members of Blues' gang are brutish thugs and criminals. In fact, given that they are called the "Angels", it's heavily implied that they might actually be a chapter of the trope-naming gang itself.
- Attempted Rape: After Loser is shot and put in the hospital, and the Angels go to sneak him out of the hospital, one of the other Angels attempts to rape a nurse, but Blues pulls him away.
- Big Bad: Heavenly Blues, a Villain Protagonist biker gang leader.
- Bolivian Army Ending: The film ends with the Angels going to bury Loser when police sirens approach and everyone scatters except Blues, who decides to stay behind to bury his friend. The last line of the film is him saying with resignation, "There's nowhere to go."
- Covered Up: The exchange between the minister and Blues at the end was later used in Primal Scream's song "Loaded", and gained more popularity still when the song was used in Edgar Wright's The World's End, which saw its main character use the same quote from this film.
- Downer Ending: While burying Joey, the Angels get in a massive brawl with some locals after one throws a rock at them. The police are called, and Blues orders his men to scatter while he finishes the burial. Last shot of the film is Blues leaving the cemetery in resignation, having accepted his imminent arrest.
- Due to the Dead: After Loser dies, the Angels forge a death certificate and arrange a church funeral in the Loser's rural hometown. However, Blues soon loses his temper at the ceremony and turns it into The "Fun" in "Funeral".
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": At Loser's funeral, Blues loses his temper and interrupts the minister's sermon, remove Loser from his casket, sit him up and place a joint in his mouth while they knock out the minister and place him in the casket.
- Last-Name Basis: Nickname variant; "Heavenly Blues" tends to just be called "Blues".
- Meaningful Name: "Loser" ends up being an ominously appropiate name for somebody whose misfortunes and eventual death keep up moving the plot.
- No Name Given: "Heavenly Blues", "Mike", and "Gaysh" sound most likely to be nicknames, and the audience isn't given any other names for them (except for Mike, who's also called "Monkey"). Averted with Loser, whose real name is given as Joe Kearns.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Blues seems to practice this; he stops an Angel from raping a nurse at the hospital Loser is in, but when the Angels turn Loser's funeral into The "Fun" in "Funeral" and two Angels drug and rape Loser's widow Gaysh, Blues is apparently raping another woman. It seems that he only stopped the incident at the hospital only because it would get them caught.
- Team Title: The Wild Angels.
- Tomboyish Name: Blues' girlfriend is called "Mike".
- Villain Protagonist: Heavenly Blues, a violent biker gang leader. While he's less ruthless than a lot of his comrades, he's still willing to assault preachers and cops, and employs a lot of Nazi imagery.