“Everything these days is pictures.” Jim says to the motorcycle gang in The Wild One, “Pictures and a lot of noise. Nobody even knows how to talk, just grunt at each other.” If this was being noticed even then, we’re in real trouble. Obviously I like pictures, but the last part is becoming more and more insidious and apparent, where texting is preferred over a phone call.
The Wild One stars Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, the leader of a motorcycle gang that passes through small towns causing trouble. He’s a rebel without a cause, looking for trouble but finding love in Kathy, played by Mary Murphy. This film is iconic for Brando’s portrayal of a seemingly lost, masculine biker that sports a tilted cap, shades, tight jeans and a stunning leather jacket that breathes male sexuality and appeal. On a regular day like any other, Johnny and his boys ride into a town and immediately incur the displeasure of the locals, especially Art Kleiner, whose crazy driving knocks one of the boys off of his motorcycle. What follows is a tumultuous trip of wild hedonism, youth rebellion and a story of sadness.
This is hardly ever seen as a sad film, more focus is directed towards Brando’s mass appeal of raw sexual magnetism, but in-fact the sadness stems from his portrayal of a character so flawed in mind that many of us can relate. Sure enough, relation cannot be made to his lifestyle of riding a bike and quivering the knees of the nearest females, but it can be made by his attitude, that of a youth with a troubled history and a bleak outlook on things. “What’ve you got?” Strabler replies to a young girl who asks him “What are you rebelling against?” It’s pretty clear then and there that this guy just wants a good reason for why he acts like he does.
This is not a great Brando acting role, because he really doesn’t say all that much, whereas in The Godfather or Last Tango In Paris, he delivers frightful monologues and crippling dialogue which stick in the mind of the viewer, I forgot Strabler’s dialogue almost as quickly as I heard it. It’s the image of the character that remains. At one hour fifteen minutes it’s a very short film which demonstrates the feelings of a lost generation which was to arrive a few years later in the sixties, where young people would rebel against anything they could find so that they didn’t have to conform and live alongside the rules of the generation that controlled them. Mick Jagger once said that he was dissatisfied with his generation, he wasn’t alone.
The appeal of Brando’s character remains because women love him and men want to be him, James Dean grew out his sideburns, as did Elvis Presley both in attempts to be like him, Elvis even performed essentially as him in Jailhouse Rock. I have always been uninterested by masculinity and its place in cinema, people are people to me, but here I see where it all began, Brando made It popular. Although he probably lost his title when he asked his co-star in Last Tango In Paris to stick a finger up his ass.
I would advise all readers to watch this film, just as I would any film, for you to form your own opinion. But for me, the only attraction is Brando, and he’s done better. This film is about his image, not his acting, which is better than most can achieve but not good enough for what he can achieve. It’s a film about Brando, not about Strabler.
This article was first posted on March 12, 2013