The Choppers (1961) – Stealing cars, one piece at a time

“Grease this palm, big Daddy-O. Peel off those cabbage leaves.”

Drake’s rating: A junkyard full of stolen parts

Drake’s review: Arch Hall was a stuntman in a variety of Westerns in the years before World War II. During the war he served as a pilot, and in the early 1960s formed his own movie studio with the intent of featuring his son in a variety of teen movies. That son was Arch Hall, Jr., and the first movie written and produced by Hall, Sr. was The Choppers.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was not the last.

The Choppers opens with a voiceover from Hall, Sr. lamenting the decline of the kids today (“today” being “1961”), even as a small crew of juvenile delinquents descend upon a car on the side of the road and swarm over it, tools in hand, breaking it down into easy-to-carry pieces. Hall, Jr. is immediately introduced as Jack “Cruiser” Bryan, and you can tell he’s the producer’s son because he gets a sweet ride in the form of a souped-up jalopy while the other four have to make do riding around in a chicken delivery truck.

They hide the stolen parts behind the chicken coops in the truck, so it makes sense, but you’d think Cruiser could let at least one of them ride along with him. The other four, by the way, are:

  • Torch Lester (Robert Paget, who later played an auditioning Hitler in The Producers)
  • Snooper (Burr Middleton)
  • Ben Shore (Chuck Barnes who, if his IMDB entry is correct, was later OJ Simpson’s manager)
  • Flip Johnson (Rex Holman, who had a lengthy career in television)

As Arch Hall, Sr. narrates the sad stories behind the quintet’s delinquency, the boys chop the car then turn it on its side and flee the scene. Heading to the junkyard run by Moose (Bruno VeSota), they unload the parts for sweet, sweet cash, and lay on the hip lingo in thick doses.

Their crimes have not gone unnoticed, however, as intrepid and alliterative police lieutenant Frank Fleming (William Shaw) calls up Tom Hart (Tom Brown). Hart is an insurance investigator who’s been on the case, aided and abetted by his lovely assistant Liz (Marianne Gaba, a former Miss Universe contestant, Playboy Playmate, and magazine columnist), and together the three look to solve the case.

It won’t be easy, though, especially since the Choppers steal a few key parts off of Hart’s car while he’s in a diner. Those pesky kids!

Low-budget but competently made, The Choppers at times feels like a television production, especially considering its 65-minute runtime. This makes some sense as it was directed by Leigh Jason, who had a lengthy career as a B-movie director before moving primarily into TV series direction in the 1950s. The young actors are decent, with the weakest among them being Hall, Jr. Miscast as the tough leader of the group, he was also the least experienced actor among the Chopper crew, a fact which is often painfully apparent. To be fair, however, Junior was an actual teenager when he filmed The Choppers, unlike many of his drive-in movie contemporaries.

And fear not! As this is an Arch Hall, Sr. production, we get not one, but two songs from Arch Hall, Jr. The elder Hall certainly knew what his audience wanted.

It’s Marianne Gaba who steals the show, though. Not content to simply be eye candy, she’s the one who first notices the small clues that lead her boss and the cops to track the Choppers down. And when they do, get ready for the big shootout at the junkyard because, not content to merely take the fall on their stolen parts racket, the Choppers pull their gats and add a few homicide charges to their rap sheets. Jinkies!

Trivia time: Leaving the show business world behind in the mid-60s, Arch Hall, Jr. nevertheless made half a dozen B-movies before becoming a cargo plane pilot. The most famous of these is undoubtedly his sophomore effort, Eegah, co-starring Richard Kiel, which was lifted out of decades of obscurity by those fine folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000. So when you sit down with friends and family to watch The Choppers (and why wouldn’t you?), you can send them bolting from the room just by saying, “Hey! That’s the kid from Eegah!”

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