Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Wild One

Mrs The Millbrooker had to ring around the film clubbers on Sunday with a late cancellation of our usual end-of-weekend frolics due to me doing the thrashing about, sweating and moaning routine whilst claiming with a manful lack of exaggeration that the man with the scythe was tap dancing on the roof.

Not to waste a film rental, though, we sat together and watched this week's offering last night: Laslo Benedek's 1952 classic The Wild One, with the young Marlon Brando in his acclaimed performance as Johnny Scabler.This film was considered so subversive at the time that it wasn't granted a certificate to be shown in the UK for fourteen years, finally opening over here in 1968! My goodness me, but the censors were sensitive wee souls back then.

The opening scenes show Brando and his gang the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club (yep, it's where the band got it's name from, although the modern day rock band lost the "s" and became Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, singular) riding a-front a back projection of other bikers "roaring" along a dusty highway.

I suspect that even in its day the special effect was unconvincing; today, frankly, it looks silly.During the opening sequences in which the BRMC attempt to disrupt a local motorcycle race meeting, I found the performances stilted and the dialogue little better than faux tough-guy. The gang are sent packing and head off in search of their weekend's fun elsewhere. They wind up in Wrightsville - a hick town full of classic characters leading "normal, upright" lives, and where the remainder of the film is set.

The film then begins to revolve around the dual storylines of discovering Johnny's real insecure nature and his inability to communicate, which goes a long way to explaining his behaviours. The device used to explore this theme is the conventional rough-boy meets nice-girl scenario; clich├ęd, but that's pretty well excusable in a film of this vintage. Brando's performance subtly alters from swagger and irritating stupidity to sympathetic and back again several times - a very clever trick to pull off.The second narrative concerns the probably unfair jailing of rival gang leader, Chino (played with exuberance and charm by Lee Marvin) and the almost imperceptible twisting and muddying of clarity as to whether the good citizens of Wrightsville or the hooligan (they're loud and occasionally obnoxious) bikers are the good guys.This film was the forerunner of Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without A Cause, Look Back In Anger - it paved the way for those films; if for nothing else at all it deserves its place in cinematic history. But it deserves to survive for future generations on another level, too. It's a carefully written and directed piece with precisely placed symbolism; Johnny's stolen 2nd place trophy from the opening disrupted race meeting seems to show his internal desire to rise above his current attitude and societal place - but why is it only a second place trophy? (See headline photo).Then again, perhaps I'm just right up my own jacksy with a pseud's cinematic crit nonsense and it's nothing more than a slightly dated youth rebellion movie. Make your own mind up. I genuinely enjoyed it; Mrs The Millbrooker did her best not to look bored to tears and, I suspect, wouldn't be anxious to recommend it. We don't always have identical tastes.

Interestingly, the period in which the film was made was pre-rock'n'roll and the gangs are heavily into jazz. There's not much be-bop at The Bulldog Bash these days, I believe. This scene, culled from YouTube, features Brando's most famous line of the film (if you can't bear the rest of the clip - it's at 2:55 to 3:02) and has some great jive-talk from the young "hot-bloods" as they take over the bar in Wrightsville; give it a spin, daddy-o, and dig the rebop.

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