In recognition of the 68th Hollister Freedom Rally
The entire review could be summed up in a sentence: “This film created an image and a lifestyle that yet endures.” Yes, the image of a young Brando sitting on his Triumph motorcycle, dressed in a black leather jacket, tilted cap and a stolen trophy attached at the headlamp, is certainly one that literally everyone has seen at least once. Some of you still live that image today! This film arguably started the biker exploitation explosion in this reviewer’s eyes, and set the tone for hundreds of “B” movie skirt riders that are still being spawned as we speak. Released in 1953, The Wild One was based on a short story The Cyclists’ Raid by Frank Rooney which was published in Harper’s magazine in 1951. Rooney’s story was inspired by the Life magazine expose dubbed “The Hollister riot” published in July 21, 1947, after the famed ‘motorcycle weekend’ on July 4th. Curiously, that event is still celebrated in Hollister to this day!
Further research will show that this piece was not as well accepted as some of Marlon Brando’s other work, such as Streetcar Named Desire and the film was actually banned in the UK for 14 years! What is Johnny rebelling against? “What have you got?” The story starts out when Brando, starring as Johnny Strabler, and his gang the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club roll into a small Midwestern town and interrupt a motorcycle race being held there. A member of the BRMC steals a trophy, and presents it to Johnny who is the president of the gang in a show of respect. This trophy will become a focal point in the rest of the film, as it was not ‘won’ in actual competition, but ‘won’ by the ‘club’ as a spoil of confrontation. Johnny never actually states that he won the trophy until the gang heads to a local café, where Johnny meets Kathie Bleeker (played by Mary Murphy) who is the daughter of the local constable. Johnny tries to impress Kathie by stating that he won the trophy in the race, and asks her out to a dance being held later in the evening. Kathie refuses, and as the gang causes more and more disturbance, the locals in the town prod Harry Bleeker (the local cop played by Robert Keith) to deal with the gang. At this point in the film it becomes clear that Kathie is actually attracted to Johnny, and his wild lifestyle, but the romance never seems to work out.… As Johnny and his gang leave the Café, they encounter Chino (played by Lee Marvin) and his gang. Johnny and Chino are old enemies, and it is inferred that they were both members of another – larger- gang. Their rivalry escalated when Johnny broke off and formed the BRMC. Chino tries to recover the stolen trophy, but is unable to do so. As in all films of this nature, a fight breaks out between Johnny and Chino – Johnny wins. During the melee, a citizen hits a motorcycle with his car, and Chino drags him out of the car to beat him up. It is at this point that Harry the Cop arrests Chino. Harry was going to arrest the citizen also, but he lets him go in fear of future retribution. With Chino in jail, Johnny returns to the café to once again ask Kathie out. She again refuses using the ‘trophy’ and the alleged theft as an excuse. … (I guess she didn’t want to be a “Trophy” wife!) Later that night, Chino’s gang abducts the citizen from his home and in a hilarious scene they attempt to put him in jail with Chino. They actually get him into a cot in the cell, but Chino is too drunk to get up, so they just leave him there. He later breaks out! How you ask? The locals form up a vigilante squad to run the bikers out of town. When they go to the jail to retrieve their neighbor, Chino escapes and disappears into the darkness. Later Chino and his gang attempt to abduct Kathie, but our hero Johnny saves the day! Kathie and Johnny soon part but the vigilantes capture Johnny and give him a good beating. He escapes, and returns to his motorcycle and as the vigilantes give chase, one of them throws a tire iron at the speeding bike. The tire iron knocks Johnny from his bike, but the rider-less machine careens into an elderly bystander, killing him.… Johnny is arrested and charged with manslaughter, but after Kathie and another witness corroborate his story he is released from jail. In the end, even though it is apparent that Johnny doesn’t want to thank his witnesses for speaking up for him, he returns to the Café to offer the trophy to Kathie.
This film is a classic piece that you will likely enjoy if you are fan of biker exploitation films. I stated earlier that this is the one that started it all, and if you like this kind of action this is a must see! The film runs 79 minutes; it is presented in beautiful black and white, and available on DVD! I’ll give this one 5 stars, and you will play it over and over again, I promise…