“What are ya rebelin’ against Johnny?”
“What have ya got?”
That’s it. In this brief question as an answer to a question exchange, the film and our hero, perhaps anti-hero get summed up quite nicely. Forget about James Dean’s Jim Stark. Marlon Brando’s Johnny Strabler is the real rebel without a cause. He’s the leader of the pack of an outlaw motorcycle gang called the Black Rebels, or B.R.M.C. They can get wild. Brando’s Strabler is The Wild One and in his fifth film from 1953, shows the flashes of brilliance which would make him “the greatest movie actor of all time.”
The Wild One is a loose adaptation of true incident involving Hell’s Angels in a small California town in 1947. I doubt the real outlaw bikers would have behaved as the Black Rebels did. The B.R.M.C. behavior is tame, and skids between humorous and downright silly. Some of the scenes and a lot of the dialogue is, dare I say, unbelievable and hokey. Throughout the silliness Brando remains calm, cool, and collected. When he delivers the line quoted above, you know he means it. It’s the most honest line in the film, and the most serious too.
There’s more than Marlon Brando riding through the small town streets and dusty roads of California. Lee Marvin’s on hand as his rival, the leader of another outlaw biker gang. Marvin gives the second best line in the film, and I had to laugh because of the truth in his humorous delivery. Oh, and he’s got a head full of dark hair, a rare thing to see on film. The Brando-Marvin dust-up borders on the worst of pro wrestling and the best of 1960s Batman. Take that statement for what you will, if you know, you know. I can’t really explain it any other way. Character actor Will Wright provides a familiar face. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll know the face, especially if you’ve spent any time in Mayberry. Gil Stratton gets a special shout out. He’s the comic relief to Brando’s seriousness. He’s worth noting for being William Holden’s lackey in Stalag 17, a film I must review.
I won’t run out and add The Wild One to my collection. This is the second time I’ve seen it and wasn’t really taken the first time. The first half is better than the second, but it’s an easy film to watch. It’s under the 90-minute runtime. This isn’t the best film, but there’s a young Marlon Brando, a young Lee Marvin, and worth at least one viewing.
Copyright © Drew Martin 2017