Review: The Wild One

Blu-ray and DVD: The Wild One (1953)

When Johnny (Marlon Brando) and his motorcycle gang burst into Carbonville for a biker competition, they soon get kicked out of town for being hellraisers. They end up in nearby Wrightsville and continue to cause havoc. The local sheriff (Robert Keith) is helpless to stop them, and when a rival gang arrives, he arrests their leader, Chino (Lee Marvin). Meanwhile, Johnny finds himself attracted to the sheriff’s daughter, Kathie (Mary Murphy), and decides to stick around.

1953 was a bloody good year for films: Shane, The Wages of Fear, The Big Heat and The Wild One were released. The Wild One was ground-breaking for its time, and way before such 50s films as Jailhouse Rock, Blackboard Jungle, and Rock Around the Clock were released, Marlon Brando gave us ‘Disaffected Youth’. This is a story based on fact , young men returning from WW2 wanted a different life, and for the first time, the world over, attitudes changed from ‘us and them’ to ‘us and fuck you I’m not doing what you tell me’.

The film may seem a little tame today, but at the time of its release it caused a very real outcry. Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) and his gang steal a trophy at a motorcycle race and mess around (in a non-threatening way) with the local cops, but still manage to gain some respect from some of the local business owners who are happy to take the bikers money for food and beer.
Johnny’s obvious contempt for the ‘straight’ world is quite tame; at a bar Johnny is given a glass for his beer, but he ignores it and drinks from the bottle. In the most famous scene from the film someone asks Johnny, ‘What are you rebelling against?‘ His reply of ‘What’ve you got?‘ Is the first Punk-outcry of post-war youth.

Despite their half-arsed anarchic, nihilistic tendencies, Johnny and the gang reveal their need for some sort of order and justice when the town’s citizens want to set free the driver of a car who hits a biker. The gang apprehends the man and puts him in jail.
Johnny in his iconic gay ‘Rob Halford – the leather years’ hat meets local diner worker and the sheriff’s daughter, Kathie and they start to fall for one another. An old adversary of Johnny’s, Chino turns up and hey, its boy meets girl, Lee Marvin gets in the way, boy gets girl with motorbikes.

The key word for films like The Wild One is ‘iconic’. You know the photo of Brando, his hat cocked to one side, but it’s likely you haven’t seen the film.
Well the thing is, about these iconic films, is they’re iconic for a reason (apart from the hat), and that reason is, they’re great film. Not just great stories but actually reflect in some way the time in which they’re made, but that’s another essay.

Another absolutely outstanding release from Powerhouse Films and their Indicator series of releases, with an array of incredible extras including Hollister, California: Bikers, Booze and the Big Picture, which really gives an insight into the story behind the real ‘disaffected’ post war biker gangs.

  • INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES: 
    • High Definition remaster
    • Original mono audio
    • Audio commentary by author and film historian Jeanine Basinger
    • The Wild One and the BBFC (2017, 25 mins): ex-BBFC examiner Richard Falcon discusses the film’s history with the British censor
    • Introduction to the film by Karen Kramer (2007, 1 min)
    • Hollister, California: Bikers, Booze and the Big Picture (2007, 28 mins): a look back at the real life events that inspired the film
    • Brando: An Icon is Born (2007, 19 mins): a documentary exploring the life and career of the legendary actor
    • Super 8 version (1973, 19 mins): original cut-down home cinema presentation with unique narration
    • Original theatrical trailer
    • Image gallery
    • New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
    • Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Kat Ellinger, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and Laslo Benedek’s 1955 article ‘Why I Made The Wild One
    • UK Blu-ray premiere
    • Limited Dual Format Edition of 3,000 copies

Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.