Sunday, August 30, 2009

THE WILD ONE 1953 (Motorcycle Movies Part III)

"What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?" says dancing party girl Mildred to the moody, leather-clad biker boy memorably played by a young Marlon Brando. His famous answer? "Whaddya got?"

Such an insouciant toss-off may seem tame by today’s standards, but in director Laslo Benedek’s 1953 "The Wild One" (produced by Stanley Kramer), that type of reckless rebellion (without a cause) pre-Elvis, was a big deal. A very big deal. Indeed, the entire picture had enormous impact. The movie, based on a Harper’s Magazine story that itself was loosely based on a real-life incident involving a gang of bikers invading a small California town on a Fourth of July weekend, was viewed as so incendiary that the picture was banned in Great Britain until 1968. (Think how today mainstream news easily discusses the murder of San Francisco chapter Hell Angels president Mark "Papa" Guardado). Given how forced some of this movie feels today, it seems rather silly, but I love this picture -- from its slinky Leith Stevens score, to its dual versions of the alpha male black leather bad boy -- a stoic Brando and a boisterous Lee Marvin -- two cinematic geniuses stomping out the weaklings and marking their territory with inspired appetites (for destruction).

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