In only his second top-billed role, Jack Nicholson already shows some of the commanding presence that would eventually make him a star, playing Johnny Varron, smart-mouthed, arrogant punk and "top man" in a gang of would-be hot-rodders (an "anti-hero" ten years before they were popular?). In the first scene, Johnny's questioned by police at a party after 'chicken-running' a motorcycle cop (who later dies) into a tree. Johnny rules his gang with an iron hand, dictating activities, designating girlfriends as 'in' or 'out' ("She doesn't 'fit', man"), and scoring booze from a crooked liquor store owner for their makeout parties at the beach. When 'second lieutenant' Dave appears to be going "shallow" over his girl (because he "chickened" to an oncoming truck and ran his bomb off the road when she screamed) Johnny demands that he drop her ("First thing you know you're gonna be sittin' on a sofa watching TV, and that's the end, you might as well be dead.") Later, in his first legitimate race (featuring some actually quite decent track footage), he wins through dirty tactics and is immediately fired by his furious sponsor (the entire gang goes "on the town" with a twenty in winnings from a bet he had one of his boys place on him). Interestingly, the 'square' chick is the only person who dares to stand up to Johnny, labeling his win at the track "disgusting." Ultimately, his obsession with controlling the gang leads to a high-speed chase and ensuing tragedy. The Wild Ride is short (only 60 minutes) but sweet, featuring lots of groovy hep-talk (count how many times they use the word "man"); a reference to Marlon Brando in The Wild One; some way-cool wheels (gearheads will be drooling); and a nice'n'sleazy, jazzy score heavy on sax, vibes, flute, and bongos. If you're into the late-50s JD/Hot Rod/AIP scene, this should be on your must-see list, daddy-o.
Unfortunately, the source print does have some problems: it's a bit contrasty, and exhibits the usual light speckling and blemishing throughout, plus a few mild jump cuts, some sporadic blotching and lining, and noticeable grain. That said, the picture is bright enough, with generally very good tonal scale and shadow/highlight detail, and acceptably sharp. Basically a pretty solid 16mm TV print, eminently watchable, and benefiting from the superior resolution of DVD. There are a few points where it seems that some footage may be missing, but I noticed no major gaps in continuity. Overall, it blows away the other two Brentwood discs I've purchased: both Hot Rod Girl and T-Bird Gang suffer enormously in comparison, both looking very flat, faded, and dupey. Extras (Casper cartoon with terribly balanced, faded color; movie trivia quiz; DVD Dictionary) are negligible; buy this one for the feature. Besides Brentwood, only Sinister Cinema currently offers this movie on disc (in DVD-R format), and from the few SC DVD-Rs I've purchased I'm not exactly overwhelmed with their overall quality (at several times the cost of this commercial DVD). Since there appear to be no plans for legitimate DVD releases of the bulk of Corman's Filmgroup productions, I highly recommend this disc to JD/hot rod aficionados, especially at the dirt-cheap price.