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Cop-hating Johnny Strabler is recounting the fateful events that led up to the "whole mess" as he calls it, his role in the mess and whether he could have stopped it from happening. The Black Rebels, a motorcycle gang of which Johnny is the leader, cause a ruckus using intimidation wherever they go, with their actions bordering on the unlawful. On the day of the mess, they invade a motorcycle racing event, at which they cause a general disturbance culminating with one of the gang members stealing a second place trophy to give to Johnny. Despite not being the larger winning trophy, it symbolizes to Johnny his leadership within the group. Their next stop is a small town where their disturbance and intimidation tactics continue. Some in town don't mind their arrival as long as they spend money. Harry Bleeker, the local sheriff, doesn't much like them but is so ineffective and weak that he doesn't do anything to stop them, much to the annoyance of some of the other townsfolk, who see the ... Written by
Every so often that movie comes along that defies everything, everyone and all expectations. It reaches beyond the realms of mere big screen entertainment and constructs iconography and archetypes that are so enduring that to this day they are relevant and have an effect. Make no mistake about it, The Wild One is THE first movie to represent a youth culture of any description. People cite Rebel Without A Cause as the first youth culture movie BUT this movie came before and in my opinion, is by far the better movie
The story centres on Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) and his motorcycle gang who terrorise a small California town alongside another motorcycle gang led by Chino (a young Lee Marvin). After Chino's arrest for out of hand antics, the gangs run wild during the night, doing with the town as they please, from attacking the telephone operator, freeing Chino from prison to attacking a citizens house whom they believe responsible for Chino's arrest and accosting just about every female in the town. While Johnny is not totally blameless for this he is most definitely NOT the instigator that everyone makes him out to be. This does not stop the townspeople adopting a mob mentality and going at Johnny with all guns blazing. However while they are planning this there is a love story unfolding between Johnny and the daughter of a cop, a love story that is never truly consummated. The cops daughter had intrigued Johnny since the beginning since she had appeared untouchable. He saves her from the wrath of the rest of the B.R.M.C. (the name given to Johnny's motorcycle gang) and takes her to a forest where, after some heated Academy Award flavoured dialogue and a kiss and a slap, the cops daughter runs from Johnny, although not FROM Johnny. The running stands for a metaphor related to suburban societal entrapment. Johnny is later caught and battered by the mob until the towns cop unknowingly stalls the mob for Johnny to escape. Johnny grabs his motorcycle and attempts to ride out when something (a tyre iron) is thrown at the wheel of his moving bike and causing is to fly out of control and into an elderly citizen. And when it seems that Johnny is going to go to jail for an extremely LONG time, a couple of towns people including the cops daughter decide to tell a few truths that help Johnny get out of it. Johnny and his boys leave town never to return.
The mere storyline of this movie is simply not enough to translate exactly what it is that this movie stands for and is responsible for. A scene that is, and forever shall be ingrained into the Hollywood psyche is when Johnny is standing by a jukebox and one of his gang members is dancing with a girl and she asks, `B.R.M.C., what does that stand for?'. Johnny's gang member replies `The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club' and she replies `Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?' and he replies, in what could very possibly be the most career defining sentence that has ever been uttered on-screen, `Whaddya got?'. Now in this day and age that comes across as incredibly trite and corny but in those days, in that social environment that existed in Western Culture, that movie was called incendiary and ran into censorship troubles (cue The Hayes Code) and in England was banned outright until sometime in the mid 70s. While watching this movie one must remain totally and utterly aware of the context of this movie.
Another the scene that was the cause of many a raised eyebrow and was exactly what makes every kid on earth that's ever been condescended to by teacher and parents and the like, totally empathise is the scene where the cops daughter and the cop have saved Johnny's life and Johnny is being read the riot act by the Sheriff and he just sits there, looking at the floor (c'mon guys, u know you've been in that position before) totally listening but appearing as if he isn't. As Johnny is strutting out of the room the cop stop him by asking if he has anything to say to these people who have basically saved his life (at least from jail). The cop even prompts him so far as to say `You could at least say 'Thank You'. Johnny doesn't move, doesn't turn to look at them, doesn't speak. This silence is broken by the cops daughter who says `It's OK, he doesn't know how'. This on it's own cements John Strabler and the most archetypal rebel. The key here is in relating to the character. Everybody, from your typical f***ed-up suburban teenager, to your urban delinquents to a three year old can understand the complexities and the moral stand that is taken by someone when they decide that they will not do things like apologise or thank people.
Youth rebellion was a complete and utter non entity in the 50s, no one could fathom kids doing things like this. Kids up until the 50s merely did what there parents did. This movie was the first to challenge all this, to challenge class oppression and gender roles even, as there are women (shock, horror) as members of Chino's motorcycle gang. This could be the most exceptional piece of filmmaking that EVER happened. I guarantee you that in no matter what town you live in that if you walk down the street you will see some degree of influence from this movie on the people you encounter. Without this movie the following things would not be the same in society:
1) There would be no Rockabilly music of the same fashionable kind 2) There would have to be ANOTHER image of the rebel, possibly the James Dean created image of the rebel because this one would not be 3) There would be no movies the way they are today in terms of youth rebellion (this movie challenged censorship sensibilities) 4) The punk rock movement would be utterly different (Jesus Christ, Sid Vicious has Marlon Brando's jacket, not to mention The Ramones) 5) A lot of modern music, The B.R.M.C. for instance would not be the band they are
The point being made here is that the effect of this movie is beyond mere moviedom. It defined a times, it defined an actor (Marlon Brando), is was fresh and vibrant, it was a kick in the ass for those censors, those self appointed guardians of morality who dare to tell us what to watch and how to watch it and when to watch it. Since this movie a million movies in its vein have emerged, all defining their era. For the 60s there was Easy Rider and Head, for the 70s there was Stayin Alive, and Saturday Night Fever, For the 80s there was Falling Down and for the 90s there was a torrent of them, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Human Traffic BUT, The Wild One was the first, the unadulterated masterpiece that is now an indelible mark on Hollywood, no American, no Western Culture that will for ever stand testament to the fact that, WE ARE SO F***ING COOL!!! (kids that is JJ)
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