Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?...Whadda you got?
An angry young Marlon Brando scorches the screen as THE WILD ONE in this powerful '50s cult classic. Brando plays Johnny, the leader of a vicious biker gang which invades a small, sleepy California town. What's Johnny rebelling against? What have you got? - he sneers. The leather-jacketed young biker seems hell-bent for destruction until he falls for Kathie (Mary Murphy), a good girl whose father (Robert Keith) happens to be a cop. Unfortunately for Johnny, his one shot at redemption is threatened by a psychotic rival, Chino (Lee Marvin), plus the hostility and prejudice of the townspeople. All their smoldering passions explode in an electrifying climax!
First-time available on Blu-Ray in the U.S.!
Movies with an agenda are a a pretty tough bunch to take seriously. It’s one thing to have a message in your movie aimed at enlightening an unsuspecting public to the dangers of this evil thing or that type of dangerous behavior. It’s quite another when a movie goes so far as to make up details, especially about something that pertains to historical events, it just becomes a sad propaganda piece. In spite of a smoldering performance by lead Marlon Brando, ‘The Wild One’ ends up feeling like the big budget ‘Reefer Madness’ of youth rebellion movies.
Rough and tough biker gang leader Johnny Strabler, Marlon Brando, rides around on his motorcycle in a continuing quest to avoid responsibility. Unfortunately for him, responsibility keeps following him wher ever he goes in the form of his reckless rampaging gang members. As they ride into a small town, things get rough at the outset. After a small traffic accident puts one of his boys in the hospital, the gang is stuck in town. While some of the townsfolk are more than happy to see the extra business, other individuals aren’t too keen on the idea. Caught in the middle is the bored and lonely Kathie, Mary Murphy, who wants nothing more than to leave this dead end town and experience the world. But is Johnny the right guy to take her there?
As the motorcycle gang acts in disruptive, yet hardly destructive ways; water is poured on boiling oil when a rival biker gang arrives on the scene lead by Chino, a scene stealing Lee Marvin. It seems awhile back, Chino and Johnny were once part of the same gang. While on civil terms, the town and its inhabitants suffer as the two gangs run amok. Having these toughs in town was bad enough, but arriving in their wake is a cadre of unsavory behaving young women, further fraying the moral fabric of society. The local law tosses Chino in jail, fanning the flames even further. Things go from worse to all out war when the men in town decide it’s time to take the law into their own hands and run these bikers out with fatal consequences.
“Youth Rebellion” movies were a dime a dozen in the 1950s. Their overarching message was always the same, “Clean (insert religious affiliation here) living, bowing to authority, and absolute obedience is the only way for society to survive.” There’s a lot of “now, now” finger wagging aimed at the audience of ‘The Wild One’ suggesting that if you don’t conform, if you don’t raise your children right, you could end up with a child like Johnny who learns too late these critically valuable societal life lessons.
All of that finger wagging and message spouting would be fine if this story was based in any sort of fact at all. The film opens with a message that aims to present the following events as accurate to a real life incident, only it’s not accurate at all. Did a biker gang roll into a small California town? Yes. Did a rival biker gang roll into the same small California town at the same time? Yes. Did things get a little lively? You bet. Did the town get destroyed leading to vigilante violence? Nope, not one bit. But this movie is preaching a message, one that I gather was aimed at “squares” as the biker gangs call people who conform, and it’s not really interested in accuracy. The later violent actions of the towns people seem justified because of those crazy youths.
Inaccuracies and soap box messaging aside, ‘The Wild One’ comes out being a pretty good movie when all is said and done. It features Brando in his prime, hot off his Oscar Nomination for ‘A Street Car Named Desire’, Brando gives a relatively thin character some incredible weight. This movie could have easily become a cartoon if a lesser actor has been placed in the lead. Brando wisely knew when to hold his character back and let his actions speak for him when dialogue simply wouldn’t have worked. Also great to see is Lee Marvin, who years later would play a similarly ridiculous rabble rousing character in ‘Cat Ballou’ and win an Oscar.
If you’re a Brando fan, ‘The Wild One’ is an easy recommendation for his presence in the film alone. As for the rest of the movie, it’s only pretty good. Brando owned the 1950s with films like ‘Viva Zapata!,’ ‘Julius Caesar,’ and ’On The Waterfront’ - all of which came out before 1955! If you’ve never seen ‘The Wild One,’ it’s worth watching at least once in your life. It isn’t the best Brando movie, but it’s Brando at his best!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘The Wild One’ arrives on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the reverse side of the artwork features a still image of the gang and their logo through the transparent plastic.
‘The Wild One’ may be pressed on a BD25 disc, but that doesn’t stop it from have a beautiful 1.37:1 pillar-boxed 1080p transfer. Since there aren’t any extra features, the image quality comes through in fine form. As a black and white film, this is a dark and inky movie with pitch blacks and wonderfully graded shadows giving an image that offers exceptional depth. The print is in exceptional shape here. if there is any damage to speak of, you’re going to have a hard time finding any. Film grain is intact and leads to outstanding detail levels. For those who like their HD image video-smooth, you may be put off in some of the darker scenes where grain is strongest. For people looking for a more accurate film-like presentation, ‘The Wild One’ is all aces in my book.
Featuring an outstanding English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, ‘The Wild One’ roars to life. From the opening shot with the mass of motorcycles riding straight at the camera, you’re given an auditory feast. Even for a stereo track, the imaging leads to a fantastic surround feel. Levels are spot on as the quiet voices, the subtle jazzy score by Leith Stevens, and the roaring motorcycle engines rarely have to compete to be heard. Also for a film that’s edging towards 65 years, the track is free of any hisses, pops, or other glitches.
No extra features are present.
‘The Wild One’ has one incredible thing going for it, Marlon Brando. If it hadn’t been for him, this movie easily could have sunk into obscurity along with the likes of ‘I Accuse My Parents,’ ‘High School Big Shot,’ ‘Daddy-O,’ ‘The Violent Years,’ or any other genre fodder that ended up being massacred to delightful effect by ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000.’ In the end, it’s still a pretty good movie, and worth seeing for the great performances. This Blu-ray release of ’The Wild One’ also earns kudos for a strikingly beautiful black and white HD transfer and a lively and strong DTS-HD audio track. The lack of extras is a shame, but this disc is still an easy recommend.