The Wild One

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The Wild One
Wildoneposter.jpg
original film poster
Directed byLászló Benedek
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written byShort story:
Frank Rooney
Screenplay:
John Paxton
Ben Maddow
Narrated byMarlon Brando
StarringMarlon Brando
Mary Murphy
Lee Marvin
Music byLeith Stevens
CinematographyHal Mohr
Editing byAl Clark
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release datesDecember 30, 1953 (US)
Running time79 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
 
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The Wild One
Wildoneposter.jpg
original film poster
Directed byLászló Benedek
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written byShort story:
Frank Rooney
Screenplay:
John Paxton
Ben Maddow
Narrated byMarlon Brando
StarringMarlon Brando
Mary Murphy
Lee Marvin
Music byLeith Stevens
CinematographyHal Mohr
Editing byAl Clark
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release datesDecember 30, 1953 (US)
Running time79 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

The Wild One is a 1953 American outlaw biker film directed by László Benedek and produced by Stanley Kramer. It is famed for Marlon Brando's iconic portrayal of the gang leader Johnny Strabler.

Basis[edit]

The Wild One was based on a short story, The Cyclists' Raid by Frank Rooney, in the January 1951 issue of Harper's Magazine. The story was later published in book form as part of The Best American Short Stories 1952. The story took a cue from an actual biker street party on the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 in Hollister, California that was elaborately trumped up in the July 21, 1947 issue of Life Magazine, and dubbed the Hollister riot, with staged photographs of wild motorcycle outlaw revelers. The Hollister event is now celebrated annually. In the film, the setting is the fictional Wrightsville, California.

Plot[edit]

The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, a group of bikers led by Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando), rides into Carbonville, California during a motorcycle race and causes trouble. A member of the gang, Mouse (Gil Stratton), steals the second-place trophy (the first place one being too large to hide) and presents it to Johnny. Stewards and policemen order them to leave.

The bikers head to Wrightsville, which only has one elderly, conciliatory lawman, Chief Harry Bleeker (Robert Keith), to maintain order. The residents are uneasy, but mostly willing to put up with their visitors. When their antics cause Art Kleiner (Will Wright) to swerve and crash his car, he demands that something be done, but Harry is reluctant to act, a weakness that is not lost on the interlopers. This accident results in the gang having to stay longer in town, as one member injured himself falling off his motorcycle. Although the young men become more and more boisterous, their custom is enthusiastically welcomed by Harry's brother Frank (Ray Teal) who runs the local cafe-bar, employing Harry's daughter, Kathie (Mary Murphy) and the elderly Jimmy (William Vedder).

At Frank's cafe, Johnny meets Kathie and asks her out to a dance being held that night. Kathie politely turns him down, but Johnny's dark, brooding personality visibly intrigues her. When Mildred (Peggy Maley), another local girl, asks him, "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?", he answers "Whaddaya got?" Johnny is attracted to Kathie and decides to stay a while. However, when he learns that she is the policeman's daughter, he changes his mind.

Then a rival biker gang, The Beetles, arrives. Their leader, Chino (Lee Marvin), bears a grudge against Johnny. Chino reveals the two groups used to be one large gang before Johnny split it up. When Chino takes Johnny's trophy, the two start fighting and Johnny wins.

When local Charlie Thomas (Hugh Sanders) stubbornly tries to drive through, he hits a parked motorcycle and injures Meatball, one of Chino's bikers. Chino pulls Charlie out and leads both gangs to overturn his car. Harry intervenes and starts arresting Chino and Charlie, but when other townspeople remind Harry that Charlie would cause problems for him in the future, he only takes Chino to the station. Later that night some Beetles members harass the telephone switchboard operator into leaving, thereby disrupting the townspeople's communication, while the B. R. M. C. abducts Charlie and puts him in the same jail cell as Chino, who is too drunk to leave with the gang.

Later, as both gangs wreck the town and intimidate the inhabitants, some bikers led by Gringo (Keith Clarke) chase and surround Kathie, but Johnny rescues her and takes her on a long ride in the countryside. Frightened at first, Kathie comes to see that Johnny is genuinely attracted to her and means her no harm. When she opens up to him and asks to go with him, he rejects her. Crying, she runs away. Johnny drives off to search for her. Art sees and misinterprets this.

The townspeople have had enough. Johnny's supposed assault on Kathie is the last straw. Vigilantes led by Charlie chase and catch Johnny and beat him mercilessly, but he escapes on his motorcycle when Harry confronts the mob. The mob give chase, but Johnny is hit by a thrown tire iron and falls. His riderless motorcycle strikes and kills Jimmy.

Sheriff Stew Singer (Jay C. Flippen) arrives with his deputies and restores order. Johnny is initially arrested for Jimmy's death, with Kathie pleading on his behalf. Seeing this, Art and Frank step forward and testify that Johnny was not responsible for the tragedy, with Johnny being unable to thank them. The motorcyclists are ordered to leave the county, albeit paying for all damage. Returning alone to Wrightsville, however, Johnny re-visits the cafe to say goodbye to Kathie one final time. He acts as though he's leaving after getting a cup of coffee, but he returns, genuinely smiles, and offers her his stolen trophy before exiting.

Publicity still of Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

Cast[edit]

Release[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

The Wild One was well received by film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 80% critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.1/10. Dave Kehr of The Chicago Reader wrote: "Legions of Brando impersonators have turned his performance in this seminal 1954 motorcycle movie into self-parody, but it's still a sleazy good time."[1] Variety noted that the film "is long on suspense, brutality and sadism ... All performances are highly competent."[2]

Replica of Marlon Brando's 1950 6T Triumph Thunderbird with publicity stills from the film.

Controversies[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the film was banned by the British Board of Film Censors for fourteen years. It finally got an 'X' certificate in November 1967,[3] and was first seen by the UK public at the 59 Club in Paddington, London in 1968.[4]

According to the book, Triumph Motorcycle In America, Triumph motorcycle's then-importers, Johnson Motors, objected to the prominent use of Triumph motorcycles in the film. However, later, Gil Stratton Jr, who played "Mouse" in the film, advertised Triumph motorcycles in the 1960s when he was a famous TV sports announcer (ironic given his antics mocking this activity at the film's opening). Moreover, the current Triumph factory now uses images from the film to advertise their motorcycles.

Madame Tussauds waxwork exhibit of Marlon Brando in The Wild One albeit with a later 1957/8 model Triumph Thunderbird

Influence on popular culture[edit]

Brando's image[edit]

Brando's portrayal of Johnny has become an iconic image. His character wears long sideburns, a Perfecto-style motorcycle jacket and a tilted cap; he rides a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T. Brando's haircut inspired a craze for sideburns, followed by James Dean and Elvis Presley, among others.[5] Brando's image from the film is one of dozens of celebrities on The Beatles' Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

Presley also used Johnny's image as a model for his role in Jailhouse Rock.[6]

James Dean bought a Triumph TR5 Trophy motorcycle to mimic Brando's own Triumph Thunderbird 6T motorcycle that he used in the film.[5]

Brando's image remains potent today. In the mid-1990s, Yamaha used lookalikes of Mary Murphy's and Marlon Brando's characters to advertise their cruiser range of motorcycles. In the 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Shia LaBeouf's character, Mutt Williams, first appears in the same outfit as Johnny Strabler, right down to the tilted cap. For 2010, Triumph motorcycles introduced a range of clothing and promotional items inspired by Brando's image from The Wild One.

Parodies[edit]

Several AIP "beach party" movies of the 1960s include a comic reference to "The Wild One" in the form of Harvey Lembeck's character, the speech-impedimented Eric von Zipper, who dressed like Marlon Brando's Johnny Strabler, claimed that "Marlo Brandon [sic] used to be my idol," and led a small comically inept motorcycle "gang" named The Rats.

Other references[edit]

The rock group Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got its name from the name of Brando's gang, although in the film, the gang is referred to as "Black Rebels Motorcycle Club". One story maintains that The Beatles took their name from the other motorcycle club led by Lee Marvin, the Beetles, as referred to in The Beatles Anthology (though as aforementioned, the film was banned in Britain until 1967).[7]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Movie Review: The Wild One.
  2. ^ The Wild One.
  3. ^ Timothy Shary; Alexandra Seibel (2007). Youth culture in global cinema. University of Texas Press. p. 17. 
  4. ^ Gary Robertson (2007). Gangs of Dundee. Luath Press Ltd. p. 22. 
  5. ^ a b Dr. Martin H. Levinson (2011), Brooklyn Boomer: Growing Up in the Fifties, iUniverse, ISBN 1-4620-1712-6, p.81.
  6. ^ Burton I. Kaufman & Diane Kaufman (2009), The A to Z of the Eisenhower Era, Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-7150-5, p.38.
  7. ^ Dave Persails (1994). The Beatles: What's In A Name. RecMusicBeatles.com. Retrieved September 3, 2011.

External links[edit]