|Marlon Brando & Mary Murphy in The Wild One|
I like rebels, or at least the idea of the rebel as Hollywood depicts it. Marlon Brando really started the trend, followed by the all-too short life and acting career of James Dean. Dean often attributed his look in Rebel without a Cause to Marlon Brando's reckless behavior in The Wild One from 1953. You could even say that there wouldn't have been a James Dean if Marlon Brando hadn't first blazed the trail to the ideal rebel.
Rebels are scary because they thumb their noses at society's demands and expectations. In his "other" life, Johnny Strabler is an normal citizen. But on the weekend, he's the leader of a biker gang that heads out on country roads seeking something to sooth their restless nature. In The Wild One, Johnny's gang literally takes an entire town hostage, partly because Johnny's reluctant to leave, partly because of external circumstances where they can't leave, and partly because a rival gang shows up raring for a fight.
The entire plot is one of volatile, raw energy. These young men are frustrated, but they don't know why; angry, but they can't put a label on their anger. Johnny's reasons for staying longer are different from the rest of his gang. He meets a girl. Duh! And she's a good girl. Which is a sad cliche . . . now. But in the 1950s The Wild One was sort of the first of its kind so for a good girl to be attracted to a brute like Johnny Stabler would have shocked audiences. When a local girl asks him, "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?" he answers with "Whaddaya got?"
That line really says it all. Sometimes just the act of rebellion is enough, the desire to be different from everyone else, to buck tradition. I believe strongly in tradition. I differ from my parents in some ways, but not in the really important ones like faith and politics. I stand fast on my traditions which is why I'm always fascinated by those who fight to throw off tradition as if its some sort of tyranny that needs to be overcome.
While The Wild One is nothing really special it does show Marlon Brando at his most raw, probably his rawest performance apart from A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. Stories don't always have a happy ending, and sometimes they don't need to. This one isn't the typical romance where the guy gets the girl, in fact, the guy scares the girl in a couple of scenes, and I don't blame her. But it still has this feeling at the end that Johnny is better for having stopped in that town and met Kathie. Maybe he'll turn out all right in the end, after he's sowed his wild oats. I don't like to give up on people which is why I understand Kathie's desire to be a good influence to Johnny. She's a good girl and she thinks Johnny's better than he seems. We can only hope she's right!