20 August 2005 | krorie
Brando vs. The Beetles
My son-in-law recently saw "Easy Rider" for the first time and became totally confused. "What's that all about?" he asked me. What could I say? I replied, "You just had to have lived through those times to understand and appreciate the movie." The same can be said of "The Wild One." Before "Blackboard Jungle," before "Rebel Without A Cause," before "Look Back in Anger," there was "The Wild One." "What are you rebelling against?" "Whatcha got?" That certainly sounds like James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" but, no, it's Johnny (Brando) in "The Wild One." I saw this movie for the first time when I was 13 and was mesmerized by it. Apparently it was distributed again after "Blackboard Jungle" and "Rebel Without a Cause" came out because I saw it the same year I saw the other two. As far as fascination of the three, this one effected me most. Almost as good as Brando is Lee Marvin. I've read conflicting accounts of how The Beatles came up with their name. One, they so admired Buddy Holly and the Crickets that they adopted Beatles as a replacement for Crickets. The other story is that John Lennon so admired "The Wild One" that he took the name of the rival bikers and gave it a new spelling. Whatever the case, Lee Marvin is a good foil for Brando.
My favorite part of the movie is the opening. The open highway is a symbol for the movie. The highway is a means of passage for new ideas, new challenges, new life styles. The highway can bring evil as well as good. It is symbolic of freedom and a carefree way of life. It's not surprising that trucks began replacing freight trains as the major means of transport for goods and services following World War II. The highway also began replacing the rails as the major means of escape for the socially and spiritually oppressed among us. The viewer sees the blacktop for what seems to be several minutes. Suddenly, something appears on the horizon. Before the viewer knows it, rebels in the form of bikers are headed directly toward the camera. Then it seems they actually run through the camera and come out of the screen into the audience. What a piece of cinematography. Hungarian-born Laszlo Benedek mainly concentrated on television after this film. Being such a gifted director, one wishes he had done more films.
There is actually not much of a story in this movie. Supposedly based on a true account of a biker gang taking possession of a small California town, it's mainly a comment on changing times and mores in post-war America. But from the first roar of bikes journeying down the pavement, the viewer is hooked and stays spellbound to the very end. One thing puzzles me about the film's history: How does a movie get banned in Finland?