Film Review: The Wild One (dir by Laszlo Benedek)


Motorcycles have always been unbelievably sexy and, in 1953, so was Marlon Brando.

1953 was the year that Brando played Johnny Strabler in The Wild One.  Johnny’s the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.  He wears a leather jacket and always has a cap tilted rakishly on his head.  When Johnny moves, he makes it a point to take his time.  He doesn’t run from anyone and, perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t run to anyone.  Johnny’s a rebel and he doesn’t care who knows it.  “What are you rebelling against?” Johnny is asked.  “Whaddya got?” Johnny replies and, when he says it, you not only believe him but you want to join him in his rebellion.

And yet, from the minute that we see Johnny, it’s obvious that there’s more to him than just his jacket and his attitude.  He speaks softly and when he smiles, there’s something almost shy about the expression.  You look into his brooding, soulful eyes and you know that Johnny isn’t just about making trouble.  He’s searching for something that society alone can’t deliver.  Johnny’s a bad boy, the type who you fool yourself into thinking that you — and only you — can reach and help heal.

At least, that’s the way that Kathie (Mary Murphy) feels about him, even though she’s way too smart to accept his invitation to go to a dance with him.  Kathie works at a diner in a small California town.  When Johnny and his gang ride into the town, all of the boring, responsible citizens want to force him to leave.  Kathie, alone, sees that Johnny’s not as bad as everyone assumes he is.  And if there’s any doubt about the fact that Johnny’s got a good soul despite his brooding nature, Chino (Lee Marvin) shows up to remind everyone of what a truly bad biker is like.

Chino and Johnny may both love their motorcycles but otherwise, they’re opposites.  If Johnny has the soul of a poet, Chino has no soul at all.  Johnny’s searching for freedom while Chino is merely searching for power.  Chino and Johnny were once friends, all part of the same gang.  However, Johnny eventually went off on his own and took the younger gang members with him.  Chino, in many ways, represents America’s destructive and wild path.  He’s an old west outlaw who rides a motorcycle instead of a horse.  Johnny, meanwhile, is a wanderer who represents the part of America that created Kerouac and Dylan.

(Interestingly enough, both Brando and Marvin were 29 years old when they made The Wild One.  However, Brando looked much younger and Marvin looked considerably older, which only added to the film’s theme of generational conflict.  Brando, himself, has never rode a motorcycle before making The Wild One and reportedly avoided the actual bikers who were hired to act as extras.  Lee Marvin, on the other hand, was an experienced rider and fit right in with the film’s cast.  To be honest, Lee Marvin is actually more convincing than Brando but Brando had the eyes and the wounded way of speaking whereas Marvin was every single guy who needlessly revs his motorcycle’s engine in the middle of the night.)

Anyway, needless to say, the townspeople are even less happy once Chino’s gang shows up.  Unfortunately, few of them understand the difference between Johnny and Chino.  In fact, the majority of the upright citizens prove themselves to be just as and, in some cases, more violent than the bikers that they’re trying to run out of town.  It all leads to violence, tragedy, and, ultimately, understanding.  This was a 50s film after all.  Director Laszlo Benedek may have played up the more sordid aspects of the story but the film was produced by the reliably and safely liberal Stanley Kramer and the film concludes on a very Krameresque note.

If you only know Marlon Brando from the latter half of his career, when he was best known for his weight, his eccentricities, and his personal tragedies, than watching The Wild One is quite a revelation.  It’s a well-directed film with a host of effective supporting turns but it’s Brando who makes the film unforgettable.  Watching the film, you understand why Brando became a star and you also see just how much he inspired so many of the actors who came after him.  James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without A Cause owes a huge debt to Brando’s work here.  In fact, every rebel owes a debt to The Wild One.  In the role of Johnny, Brando invites and inspires us all to ride down the road and see what we find.

The Wild One was a huge hit in 1953, leaving teenagers excited and parents concerned.  That same year, Brando also played Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar and received an Oscar nomination for the performance.  The Wild One was ignored at the Oscars but lives on whenever anyone hit the road and goes searching for America.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 11: Five from the Fifties


cracked rear viewer

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The 1950’s were a time of change in movies. Television was providing stiff competition, and studios were willing to do anything to fend it off. The bigger budgeted movies tried 3D, Cinerama, wide-screen, and other optical tricks, while smaller films chose to cover unusual subject matter. The following five films represent a cross-section of nifty 50’s cinema:

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BORDERLINE (Universal-International 1950; D: William A. Seiter)

BORDERLINE is a strange film, straddling the borderline (sorry) between romantic comedy and crime drama, resulting in a rather mediocre movie. Claire Trevor plays an LAPD cop assigned to Customs who’s sent to Mexico to get the goods on drug smuggler Pete Ritchey (Raymond Burr , being his usual malevolent self). She’s tripped up by Ritchey’s rival Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray , channeling his inner Walter Neff), and taken along as he tries to get the dope over the border. What she doesn’t know is he’s also…

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Back to School Part II #44: Degrassi Takes Manhattan (dir by Stefan Brogren)


Cassie Steele, Mike Lobel, Miriam McDonald, and Shane Kippel in Degrassi Takes Manhattan

Cassie Steele, Mike Lobel, Miriam McDonald, and Shane Kippel in Degrassi Takes Manhattan

(Much as with my previous post, this review probably will not much sense to you unless you’re a longtime Degrassi fan like me.  Sorry!)

One year after Degrassi Goes Hollywoodthe third Degrassi movie was released.  Degrassi Takes Manhattan was broadcast on July 9th, 2010 and, ratings-wise, it was a huge success.  Not only did it bring TeenNick its highest ratings ever, it was the number one show viewed by teens that summer.

Why was it such a huge success?

Largely, it was because Degrassi Takes Manhattan served as not only the conclusion to season 9 but it was also the finale of Degrassi: The Next Generation.  By the end of Degrassi Takes Manhattan, all of the original Degrassi: TNG plotlines had been resolved.  Emma Nelson, who was the show’s main character for 6 seasons, married Spinner Mason.  When the series returned for season 10, it would drop The Next Generation from its title and it would simply be known as Degrassi.  All of the original characters would be gone, replaced with new students.  Degrassi Takes Manhattan was a chance to celebrate what had been and a chance to say goodbye.

And yet, Degrassi Takes Manhattan remains very controversial among the Degrassi fandom.  To be honest, a lot of people can’t stand it.  My feelings on it are mixed, though I tend to like it more than some.

One of the big problems with Degrassi Takes Manhattan is that none of the original characters actually go to Manhattan.  Emma, Manny, Spinner, and Jay all remain in Canada.  Instead, the Manhattan portion of the film features Holly J. Sinclair (Charlotte Arnold), Fiona Coyne (Annie Clark), Jane (Paul Brancati), and Fiona’s creepy twin brother, Declan (Landon Liboiron).   The New York portion of the film deals with Fiona, Holly J, Declan, and Jane all staying in a Manhattan penthouse and having various adventures in New York.  As seems to happen to at least one Degrassi student ever semester, Jane launches a singing career.  Holly J interns and falls in love with Declan.  Fiona get jealous.  It’s nothing all that interesting though it does feature the classic line, “This is New York Holly J, bitch!”

(Say what you will about the character she was playing, Charlotte Arnold was always great at delivering angry one-liners.)

Instead, the part of the film that everyone remembers is Emma (Miriam McDonald) falling in love with Spinner (Shane Kippel) and drunkenly marrying him at Niagara Falls.  After Spinner and Emma first look into getting an annulment, they suddenly realize that they really do want to spend the rest of their lives together and they have a recommitment ceremony at the beach!

And it’s actually a pretty sweet scene.  As someone who has watched every season of Degrassi, I liked the scene at the beach.  It provided closures for a lot of characters.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make any sense!  In the 9 seasons that led up to Degrassi Takes Manhattan, Spinner and Emma interacted with each other a few times during the first season but, otherwise, they never had much to do with each other.  The two of them falling in love came out of nowhere and, at the risk of being dramatic, it almost felt like a betrayal.  Anyone who has ever watched Degrassi (and those would be the only people who would really have a reason to watch Manhattan), knows that Emma’s soul mate was Sean Cameron.  As for Spinner — well, he dated pretty much everyone on the show at some point, with the notable exception of his future wife, Emma.  I always thought he and Darcy made a good couple but, by the time Manhattan went into production, Shenae Grimes was starring on 90210 and presumably wasn’t available to return so that Darcy could get married.

(One thing I did like about the ceremony is that it was conducted by Jay Hogart — played, of course, by Mike Lobel.  Jay, of course, was once responsible for Emma getting gonorrhea so it’s nice to see that she’s so forgiving.  That said, Jay did look pretty hot all dressed up…)

In the years since this movie aired, snarky fans like me have been joking about how Spinner and Emma probably got divorced a week after the beach ceremony.  But, as we all learned from watching the recent reunion episode on Netflix, Spinner and Emma are apparently still married!  Well, good for them.

Anyway, controversy aside, I still liked Degrassi Takes Manhattan but, then again, I like anything related to Degrassi.  As opposed to School’s Out and Degrassi Goes Hollywood, Degrassi Takes Manhattan is for hardcore Degrassi fans only.