The Wild One (1953)


A motorcycle gang arrives at a small town and instantly creates panic among the population. The locals try to get the bikers out of town to no avail.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Mildred: “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”

Johnny: “Whadda you got?”

 It’s generally accepted that Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is the best Hollywood movie about the 1950s youth culture. However, this odd biker gang movie about youth rebellion and alienation is praiseworthy as well — The Wild One deserves a place alongside the decade’s most interesting movies about disaffected young people.

What’s so unusual about The Wild One is that despite the presence of superstar Marlon Brando, this is, at its core, a B-movie. The movie looks and feels like a B-movie. Produced by Stanley Kramer (Judgement at Nuremberg), The Wild One is, however, more intriguing than a dozen of Class A Hollywood movies put together.

Admittedly, John Paxton (Crossfire) and Ben Maddow’s (The Asphalt Jungle) script is short on plot complications. All the same, Paxton and Maddow are able to craft a fascinating character study of a “rebel without a cause.” The story focuses on the emotionally aloof leader of a biker gang, Johnny Strabler, superbly played by the always magnetic Brando, an intriguing protagonist for many reasons.

Johnny wages a war against anything and everything that reeks mainstream America. This is a non-violent war, though. Unlike most movies about rebels, Johnny isn’t a man of action. He simply refuses to obey any rules, and, in doing so, the young man demonstrates that nothing frightens the status quo more than non-compliance.

The idea of aloofness as a deadly weapon is conveyed by Brando brilliantly. I don’t know how he did it, but he doesn’t have to say anything for you to know exactly what he is thinking — nobody is as good as Brando when he is quiet. It’s all the more amazing to find such a smart performance in what is essentially a little biker movie.

The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable, except for actor Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen), who is terrifically menacing as Brando’s ruthless nemesis. There is a memorable fistfight sequence between Marvin and Brando, which serves to establish the personalities of the two characters. And that’s another reason why I liked the movie — The Wild One doesn’t waste a single frame, every moment is here for a specific reason.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

There is no rhyme or reason why some things are seared into the collective pop culture memory and others fade into obscurity. I wouldn’t say that The Wild One has been completely forgotten, but it has been overshadowed to a degree by Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The Wild One invents some biker movie clichés while tackling many serious issues. It isn’t as good as Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), but Marlon Brando’s superb performance is not to be missed. B&W, 79 minutes, Not Rated.


12 responses to “The Wild One (1953)

  1. You make a very interesting observation about Brando – that the mark of good acting is as much about how you handle the quiet moments as the loud action ones. I’m going to have to revisit this!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Out of all the drive-in biker movies I’ve watched from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s odd that I’ve never seen this one…probably the first and undoubtedly the best. I’ll have to track it down and give it a look…I’m curious to see his ‘silent’ style of acting in this.

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    • Easy Rider (1969) and The Wild One (1953) are definitely my favorite biker movies. I also enjoyed The Born Losers (1967), the first Billy Jack movie, and The Death Wheelers (1973, aka Psychomania), a kooky B-movie.

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  3. One of my favorites. Brando is so iconic in this. I love the quote you begin with. Also the one that Marvin says that is used in ‘Beatles Anthology’: ‘The beetles missed ya!’. I also thought Mary Murphy was decent in this and looked nice. She was at one time one of Peckinpah’s girlfriends. Jeanne Basinger’s commentary on the DVD about the film is excellent.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, Peckinpah is one of my favorites too. Mary Murphy later appeared in Peckinpah’s ‘Junior Bonner’ as Mcqueen’s sister in law married to Joe Don Baker’s Curly Bonner.

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