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The Wild One (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
The Wild One (DVD)
Date: 27/04/07, updated on 18/06/09 (253 review reads)
Advantages: Iconic performance by Brando
For those of you who only remember Marlon Brando in his later years as the Godfather or Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now' it might be a mystery as to why as a young man Brando was not only considered as the brightest new acting talent around but also for the majority of women he was the sexiest film star of his generation. If you want to see why Brando achieved this status then you have to watch this film which more than any other of his early movies shocked an emotionally repressed American and probably single-handedly created the cult of the bad boy outsider.
The film is based loosely on a true incident that occurred in small town of Hollister, California over the 1947 Fourth of July holiday weekend. A group of up to four thousand bikers and other visitors descended on the town and overwhelmed the locals. Although there was little violence and few arrest the idea of a sleepy provincial town being invaded in such as way made a big impact and the event was chronicled by author Frank Rooney in a 1951 article titled 'The Cyclist Raid'.
The film takes the story one step further. A gang of only 40 motorcyclists known as the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club led by Johnny gatecrash a legit motorcycle race and are duly thrown out but not before one of the gang steals the second prize trophy (he couldn't fit the first prize inside his jacket) and presents it to Johnny.
Looking for some fun the gang then descend on the nearby town of Wrightsville and generally start making a nuisance of themselves. The Gang begin flirting with the local girls and Johnny pursues Katie who happens to be the sheriff's daughter. Tension between the gang and some hot heated locals soon flairs up and when a rival gang 'The Beetles' (I'm sure I've heard that name before...) led by the even 'badder' boy Chino turns up trouble escalates with tragic consequences.
In this film we see Brando at his at his brooding and dangerous best; he plays Johnny the gang leader, a true antihero, an outsider. He represents the collective desire of millions on young men and women to break free of the moral and economic shackles imposed on them by their parents. It is worth remembering that in Britain this film was banned until 1968 so worried were the censor about its negative and potentially subversive message.
When a local girl asks Johnny "What are you rebelling against?", "Whatcha got?" is the reply encapsulating the feeling of a generation of alienated youth.
Of course the message of rebellion was not new it featured in the writings of Kerouac and the poetry of amongst other Thom Gunn and the beat generation contemporaries but although known about amongst an intellectual elite it needed exposure on a wider scale to really reach out to most ordinary youngsters and of course film was the perfect medium.
As in many beat novels 'the road' especially the seemingly endless American highways were a symbol for freedom and the motorbike was the ultimate symbol of unconformity its rider exposed the elements and danger, perfect for the 'Don't give a f**k' philosophy of 50's rebellious youth culture. Peter Fonda in 'Easy Rider' used the same concept of 'freedom on a motorbike' many years later.
There is a big difference however between 'The Wild One' and later films such as 'Easy Rider' is so much as 'Easy Rider' was intentionally glamourising the alternative lifestyle of the hippy generation but 'The Wild One' was intended to be less controversial.
From its opening sequence when the message
"This is a shocking story. It could never take place in most American towns - but it did in this one. It is a public challenge not to let it happen again."
appears on the screen we are left in no doubt as to the intentions of the film, it is
meant to be a warning about the dangers of lawlessness and its underlying message is quite conservative.
The story is presented to the audience through a voiceover by the main character Johnny looking back on what happened.
"It begins here for me on this road. How the whole mess happened, I don't know. But I know it couldn't happen again in a million years. Maybe I could have stopped it early. But once the trouble was on its way, I was just goin' with it. Mostly, I remember the girl, I, I can't explain it - sad chick like that. But somethin' changed in me. She got to me. But that's later, anyway. This is where it begins for me right on this road."
Its producer Hollywood legend Stanley Kramer later said that the film was not meant to pass comment on the bikers simply to contrast them with the inhabitants of the small town America. However what the film does intentionally or not is to make the characters of the rebellious bikers much more appealing than the boring townspeople and manages to completely fail in its intentions at least as far as a younger audience was concerned.
Like its slightly later contemporaries 'Rebel Without a Cause (1954) and 'Blackboard Jungle' (1955), 'The Wild One' has dated and at times the melodramatic nature of the story and less than convincing acting by the minor characters makes it faintly comic to a modern audience. What saves it from movie irrelevance is the central performance by Brando, which along with James Dean in his few film roles served as a blueprint for disaffected youth for generation to come. The film also retains cultural importance for reflecting a time and attitude of a time when being a teenager was first 'invented'.
Brando certainly had the 'look' dressed in his iconic T- shirt, dirty jeans and black leather jacket he looked ultra cool and still looks cool today over 50 years later. The exchanges between him representing all that 50's America was terrified of, freedom of thought, lack of respect for authority, overt sexuality and lust for life are contrasted with life being lead by local beauty Katie, the Sheriff's daughter. She is the embodiment of what American youth ideally should conform to and yet she is seduced by Johnny (no sex of course this is the 1950's!) when we see her get on the back of his bike for a ride with the wind blowing through her long hair we all what would have happened in real life. This scene represents the foreseen threat that so worried the older generations; it implies that even well to do youngsters could be corrupted by the forces of rebellion. We must remember that at this time the US was in the grip of anti communist fervour and the wayward bikers also served to represent the dangers of accepting such a rebellious political philosophy. Unfortunately for the morally upright conservatives elements in the US at the time the film makes Katie's choice of flirting with the dangerous Johnny perfectly desirable, every young girl's dream and of course every young boy wanted to be Johnny.
By today's standards the film comes across as rather tame, there is a little violence, some implied sex and no drug taking all aspects that were part of the alternative biker scene of the time. Despite this the film does retain something of its power and can still be enjoyed by today's more knowing audiences.
CAST AND TECHNICAL DETAILS
Marlon Brando ... Johnny Strabler
Mary Murphy ... Kathie Bleeker
Robert Keith ... Sheriff Harry Bleeker
Lee Marvin ... Chino
The Wild One is directed by László Benedek, written by Ben Maddow, John Paxton adapted from 'The Cyclists' Raid' by Frank Rooney.
At 79 minutes the film is rather short by today's standards but that is no bad thing since the plot is quite slight and would struggle to be extended any longer. After being banned for so long in the UK it now carries a PG certificate on the DVD...how times change!
Essential viewing for any serious film fans!
© Mauri 2007
Summary: Motorcycle gang cause trouble in small american town