The Wild One (1953)

Director:

Laslo Benedek

The Wild One is a 1953 American film directed by László Benedek and produced by Stanley Kramer. It is most noted for the character of Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando), whose persona became a cultural icon of the 1950s. The Wild One is considered to be the original outlaw biker film, and the first to examine American outlaw motorcycle gang violence.

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The Wild One was generally 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.” Variety noted that the film “is long on suspense, brutality and sadism … All performances are highly competent.”

Marlon Brando is awesome!

11 May 2004 | by electronicparty (Bloomington, IN) – See all my reviews

The movies I’ve saw with Marlon Brando have always sparked emotion in me. His movies like Down on the Water Front and now The Wild One. A viewer might watch this movie and think it has no plot. However I believe the plot of this movie is is the character Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando. It’s not about the motorcycle or the destruction they cause or the vigilante citizens. Its really about getting into the psyche of Johnny Strabler. I love movies that really dig deep into character development and this movie does.

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After I finished watching this movie I felt I knew Johnny. I don’t think he really had ever been loved, so he never learned to express love. In the movie he expressed love the only way he knew, that was through physical interation. He had a heart harden by a lot of pain and lies. I thought I saw a tear in his eye a few times. He truly just didn’t know how to express emotion. But the gesture he showed at the end was the closet he’d ever get to saying, I love you.

A very romantic movie…

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Brando vs. The Beetles

10/10

Author: krorie from Van Buren, Arkansas
20 August 2005

My son-in-law recently saw “Easy Rider” for the first time and became totally confused. “What’s that all about?” he asked me. What could I say? I replied, “You just had to have lived through those times to understand and appreciate the movie.” The same can be said of “The Wild One.” Before “Blackboard Jungle,” before “Rebel Without A Cause,” before “Look Back in Anger,” there was “The Wild One.” “What are you rebelling against?” “Whatcha got?” That certainly sounds like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” but, no, it’s Johnny (Brando) in “The Wild One.” I saw this movie for the first time when I was 13 and was mesmerized by it. Apparently it was distributed again after “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause” came out because I saw it the same year I saw the other two. As far as fascination of the three, this one effected me most. Almost as good as Brando is Lee Marvin. I’ve read conflicting accounts of how The Beatles came up with their name. One, they so admired Buddy Holly and the Crickets that they adopted Beatles as a replacement for Crickets. The other story is that John Lennon so admired “The Wild One” that he took the name of the rival bikers and gave it a new spelling. Whatever the case, Lee Marvin is a good foil for Brando.

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My favorite part of the movie is the opening. The open highway is a symbol for the movie. The highway is a means of passage for new ideas, new challenges, new life styles. The highway can bring evil as well as good. It is symbolic of freedom and a carefree way of life. It’s not surprising that trucks began replacing freight trains as the major means of transport for goods and services following World War II. The highway also began replacing the rails as the major means of escape for the socially and spiritually oppressed among us. The viewer sees the blacktop for what seems to be several minutes. Suddenly, something appears on the horizon. Before the viewer knows it, rebels in the form of bikers are headed directly toward the camera. Then it seems they actually run through the camera and come out of the screen into the audience. What a piece of cinematography. Hungarian-born Laszlo Benedek mainly concentrated on television after this film. Being such a gifted director, one wishes he had done more films.

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There is actually not much of a story in this movie. Supposedly based on a true account of a biker gang taking possession of a small California town, it’s mainly a comment on changing times and mores in post-war America. But from the first roar of bikes journeying down the pavement, the viewer is hooked and stays spellbound to the very end. One thing puzzles me about the film’s history: How does a movie get banned in Finland?

Brando be wiiiiild ….8/10

Author: ElMaruecan82 from France

“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against ? -Whadaaya got ?”

This simple exchange sums up the spirit, or lack of , that inhabits the tumultuous heart of Johnny Stabler, the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club bikers riding like formerly the horsemen of the Apocalypse their Triumphs, or their triumph over a square alienating norm whose only trophy is defiance and suspicion. People see them as hoodlums, they define themselves as rebels … but Johnny gives the perfect answer to the inevitable question. What have you got?

Indeed, there’s nothing that doesn’t invite to rebellion, it’s not just being against the norm or the system but not even making a norm out of one’s rebellion, the idea is simply to go, to escape from the conditioning and alienating effect of civilization. These guys aren’t the baby boomers, they lived the War, they remember its effect on the elder, they inherited an America to rebuild, but the spirit was all lost in the greatest generation’s souls. They’re part of the rebirth of America and its conquering spirit, but only in the name of motorbikes, bottle of beers and rock’n’roll.

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“The Wild One” directed by Laslo Benedek is the first of a trilogy that can be defined as the “Rebellious Youth of the 50’s” followed by “Blackboard Jungle” and the the iconic “Rebel Without a Cause” (a title that could have fitted this one). James Dean’s movie dealt with rebellion from an Oedipal point of view, showing the roots of the youth’s unease, the absence of a true model to respect. “Blackboard Jungle” was more about the failure of education. But “The Wild One” shows the results without getting through their background, all we see is these kids in their 20’s looking for vast landscapes for driving, bars where partying, and towns for terrorizing.

And the first two films have one thing in common, they start with the infamous headliners, you know these big words that don’t take the viewer’s intelligence for granted. Yes, we know the whole rhapsody; this lost youth is revealing of the failure of a system … and let us pray for it will never happen again. Did we need that? I guess it’s like the famous Cagney-Robinson movies in the 30’s were people weren’t used to see gangster playing the lead roles. Well, the 50’s had to deal with rebellious minds, no less dangerous, except for the fact that they didn’t cause trouble for money, they had no reason whatsoever to act like they did, they did because … well, why not?

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And the casting of Marlon Brando as the seminal rebellious kid is the film’s masterstroke not just because of his iconic look, 2 years before James Dean with the leather jacket, the hat, and the Triumph, one of the most defining images of the 50’s, there’s more to that, there’s Marlon Brando, there’s this constant enigma engraved in his face. This is something I sensed in most of the characters he played in the 50’s, we never exactly know what he thinks, what he feels, and most of the time, his character gets away with his secret. Johnny Stabler is no exception, he doesn’t emerge from the group as a leader but as a natural outcast with one hell of an aura.

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This is pure Brandonian detachment, and I love it. See how he subtly escapes from the gang as soon as he sees the beautiful Kathie (Mary Murphy), yes, it’s obligatory romantic subplot but Brando elevates it to another dimension ever improving HER acting by the miracle of his presence. I suspect the moment she tried to get the capsule of his bottle and he took it away from her, was one of these improvisations he has the secrets. Brando plays everything, he’s tough, sensitive, intriguing and fascinating. Ultimately, she despises his gang, but in no way, she can despise him because there is something incredibly attractive in that guy who doesn’t enjoy attracting.

This is the rebellious attitude, a nihilistic escape in the world and within oneself, without coming back with no one on one’s back. Stabler has no connection with the past, he never looks back, if he takes the girl, she’s got to go with him, if he doesn’t trust the cop, it’s because he did before and it cost him a lot. Always moving forward …. Is his motto, although when one of his gang friends is injured by an old man, observing the cute Kathie, he decides to stay. The townspeople try to accommodate with the gang but it’s only a matter of time, and beer that the generation gap shows its limits, forcing the local councilman, Mary’s meek father, to interfere. But the man is incapable to use his weapon, abandoning all the control to the angry mob lead by a local bully.

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“The Wild One” isn’t the subtlest script ever but I admire its straight-forward way to make its point in 80 minutes that feel longer, this is how thrilling it is. There is a bit of wilderness and soft-headedness in all of us, it’s all about which button to press. Its primitive, simplistic, but for some reason it works and Brando is mainly the cause, but I wouldn’t attribute all the merit to him, there is a stellar performance, from, Lee Marvin as his rival Chino, almost stealing the legend’s show and an unrecognizably young Tim Carey as one of the hoodlums.

As simple as the film is, it’ll be forever renowned for its iconic image of Brando and his indelible quote, enough to put it in the legendary 50’s, a must-see definitely, a cult-classic … or the Easy Rider of the 50’s… And Marlon Brando was born to be (the) Wild (one).

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Classic Fifties biker movie still a powerful drama today

Aside from the nostalgia value of being one of the first Fifties movies to depict and glamorize the motorcycle gang lifestyle, The Wild One has a powerful undercurrent of sexual tension between Rebels leader Johnny (Brando) and pretty waitress Kathy (Mary Murphy). Their strange, almost-romance never quite materializes, despite a strong attraction between them. Their lifestyles and attitudes are just too different for them to ever be a successful couple. But I think one of the most powerful aspects of this movie is the theme of male and female miscommunication, of thwarted longings for understanding and intimacy. Johnny is obviously terrified of letting any woman get close to him, as indicated early on by his casual dismissal of the eager greeting of a cute biker he had clearly been involved with earlier.

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When the sad, lonely Kathy is almost ready to fling herself into his arms, he literally pushes her away. These themes of longing for love and understanding, fear of vulnerability, inability of the sexes to understand each other, are just as valid today as when the film was new: they are timeless. The movie has a lot of great Fifties JD stuff including bike races, fights, the hipster slang spouted by the bikers to the bewilderment of the townspeople, the legendary ” What are you rebelling against?…What have you got?” exchange between Johnny and one of the town girls looking for excitement. But the core of this strangely moving drama remains the unfulfilled love story of Kathy and Johnny, a poignant reminder of the human need for love and acceptance in all of us.

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