Wild One, The (1953)

“What are they tryin’ to prove, anyway?”

When a motorcycle gang led by a rebel named Johnny (Marlon Brando) wreaks havoc on a small town by disrespecting citizens and engaging in a fight with a drunk rival (Lee Marvin), the meek local police chief (Robert Keith) is quickly overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Brando falls for Keith’s beautiful but “square” daughter (Mary Murphy).


Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “first and best of a terrible genre” — the “motorcycle film” — was “based on true events: in 1947, 4,000 members of a motorcycle club gathered for a three-day convention in Hollister, California, and terrorized the town.” He notes that this is the movie that “firmly established Marlon Brando’s alienated antihero/rebel screen image”: here he “plays the moody, mumbling, leather-jacketed leader of the ‘Black Rebels'”, and is clearly a “tough guy” but “smarter and, beneath his detached attitude, more decent than the other punks.” Peary argues that while the “film isn’t particularly impressive”, it “has a few exciting scenes” and was likely appealing to young audience members given that “the townspeople who try to drive away the cyclists come across as being just as bad as the cyclists.” Pretty Murphy is a refreshingly independent romantic protagonist, and Brando certainly fits the bill as an intriguing bad boy — but the storyline offers little other than mayhem and havoc; it’s hard to blame the town for wanting their peace, quiet, and safety back.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marlon Brando as Johnny
  • Mary Murphy as Kathie
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its historical relevance.


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