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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
Lee Marvin based his character, Chino, on real biker Willie Forkner ("Wino Willy"). Forkner rode with the Booze Fighters Motorcycle Club, and is considered a legend among bikers. See more »
The mark on Johnny's face (below left eye and received in earlier fight with Chino) is missing in the motorcycle ride to park with Kathie, but shows up later in following scenes. See more »
I've seen hoodlums like this before. If you don't get tough with them the minute they get out of line you're sunk. You're the cop, aren't you? If you can't boot these jerks out there's plenty of us can, even if we have to bust a few heads.
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Brando is his archetypal mean and moody self, as the original rebel on a motorcycle terrorising smalltown America. The enduring iconic images from the film have weathered better than the film itself, however, but it still stands up as a paean to disaffected youth.
When Johnny and the boys ride into town all hell breaks loose, with a culture clash between themselves and the 'squares', resulting in tragedy and some reconciliation. These boys look tame compared to today's standards (they even pay for their own beer!) but they don't fit in and so are immediately ostracised by a grown-up world that doesn't understand their jive-talking, anti-social behaviour. Johnny's reply when asked, "What are you rebelling against?" says it all..."Whatta you got?", with a sneer for good measure.
Time hasn't been kind to the film, and it's hard to see why it was banned in the UK for 18 years (mainly down to the lack of any retribution for the gang), but there is still a tight story and strong characterisation. It's a pity the film descends needlessly into melodrama, losing much of it's credibility in the process.
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