The Wild One (1953)

wild one poster 1953 movie marlon brando
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting : 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Iconic Marlon Brando

Plot hasn't aged well and has become a cliché

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Wild One

Studio:  Stanley Kramer Productions

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  December 30, 1953

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

the wild one johnny strabler marlon brando mary murphy

Oh, Johnny…you are so mysterious and brooding

Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) and his biker gang the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club have just rolled into the dusty town of Wrightsville, California.  When Johnny and his friends start causing trouble and rival gang member the Beetles led by Chino (Lee Marvin) arrive in Wrightsville, a battle between the town and the bikers begins.  Johnny finds himself attracted to Kathie (Mary Murphy) but learns that her father is police chief Harry Bleeker (Robert Keith).  Harry discovers he’s trapped in a tough space with the town demanding the bikers out and the bikers antagonizing them…an explosion is brewing and Johnny could pay the price!

Directed by László Benedek, The Wild One is based on the “Hollister riot” of 1947.  The story was originally told by Frank Rooney in “The Cyclists’ Raid” in Harper Magazine (January 1951).  The film gained a cult following and helped propel Marlon Brando to fame.

the wild one lee marvin chino pipe smoking biker

You’re right Chino…nothing says intimidating like your pipe smoking friend who looks like Yukon Cornelius

The Wild One is one of those movies that you know the imagery surrounding, but you might not have seen.  Unlike Rebel Without a Cause (which came later in 1955), it seems like The Wild One was always less available…and there is some reason to that.  In the UK, it was banned, and in the US, if feels like later motorcycle movies filled in for The Wild One.  Though iconic, The Wild One is even more of a cliché than Rebel Without a Cause.

I can’t say I loved the plot of The Wild One.  It was pretty typical of motorcycle movies but at the time, it was original.  You have the loner who isn’t a bad guy, caught in a bad situation, and unable to clear his name.  It is loaded with bad beatnik dialogue that sounds more goofy than menacing and characters who are bad clichés of bikers (I particularly like the Scottish looking pipe smoking biker of Lee Marvin’s group).

The movie does excel in its cast however.  Marlon Brando is good as the devil-may-care Johnny who doesn’t even known what he’s rebelling against.  Mary Murphy is a little bland as his love interest and good girl who wants to escape the small town.  Lee Marvin is even more over-the-top as the biker bad boy Chino (who likes to speak in third person), and Robert Keith plays the wimpy push-over police chief who needs to develop past his stereotype.

the wild one johnny strabler marlon brando jay c flippen

Wait…do we like Johnny at this point or not? I’m not sure…

The movie is visually iconic.  Marlon Brando’s stylish outfit as Johnny has been imitated multiple times (including recently in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as Mutt’s outfit).  Of course now, Brando’s edgy biker looks more like a member of the Village People than someone threatening.  The movie’s set however is pretty weak and just looks like your typical Hollywood backlot (and even more western than seem appropriate for the time).

The Wild One is rather short, and it has that going for it.  It doesn’t feel like you have to commit to the movie, but it did leave me wondering if I should just watch Rebel Without a Cause again since it had similar themes and more depth…I actually expected it to end darker like Rebel.  Regardless, the movie is a classic and should be seen in that respect.  If you watch The Wild One, you might be hoping for a little more from a “shocking story” that “could never take place in most American towns”.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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