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He's really just a pussy cat,
This review is from: Wild One [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
The "bikers" are like Broadway show extras. The dialogue is embarrassingly unauthentic. Believe me, nobody outside of 42nd Street ever talked like that, daddy-o. The story plays out like some kind of "B" Western with a horse shortage. The "town" even looks like a Western set made over for what somebody in Hollywood thought might be a new genre. There's a café and a saloon rolled into one and a gal working there to catch the eye, and a town posse and a jail and a sheriff (father of the gal) and some "decent citizens" turning into vigilantes, and instead of outlaws we have "hooligans." The bikers do everything but tie their bikes up to the hitching post after roaring into town as though to take over.
Okay, that's one level. On another level this should be compared to Rebel without a Cause (1955) as a mid-century testament to teen angst. Or to Blackboard Jungle (1955) with the fake juvenile delinquency and the phony slang. Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, whose claim to fame (aside from being the leader of the pack) is that he stole a second-place biker trophy, stars in a role that helped to launch his career, not that his acting in this film was so great. (He was better in half a dozen other roles, for example., as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, or as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront 1954). What stands out here is his tough-guy vulnerability with women: the irresistible little boy playing big. In one sense, this is, despite all the men running around and the macho delirium, something very close to ladies night out. It's a period piece love story, as delicate as a teenager's heart.
Mary Murphy, who in my opinion really steals the show, is at the very center of the drama and the psychology (not to mention that she looks downright yummy in her cashmere sweater and close fitting skirt). She plays Kathie Bleeker, a small town girl whose heart yearns for something--anything--to break the tedium. Along comes Johnny to sweep her off her feet. Only he isn't sure how. Furthermore, she has a problem: although she falls in love with the wild one, she sees right through him. The scene that makes the movie begins with her jumping onto the back of his motorcycle (of course) and, after roaring down the night highway, they retire to what looks like a park. She is about a breath away from what used to be called swooning, but despite her fluttering heart, she sets him straight on who he is and how she feels and why. It's like a woman talking to a wild boy. Then she falls to the ground and just about caresses his motorcycle. It really hits home because she sees through all his pretense and exposes his vulnerability, but is vulnerable herself.
Lee Marvin plays the rival gang leader with a lot of showmanship and Robert Keith plays the ineffectual father. Just about everybody else (including longtime LA sports anchor, Gil Stratton) amounts to an extra.
See this for a glimpse at mid-century psychology as seen through the eyes of Hollywood's seduction machine, and especially for Mary Murphy (running in those heels) who, for whatever reason, never became a star.