I Saw A Film!
I suppose from our vantagepoint of privilege and plenty it’s a little difficult to understand what all the fuss about Brando was. Being a child of the sixties and seventies Brando had already sort of peaked, and would gain most of his later career reputation for The Godfather, a film set I didn’t see until much later than its production period. He did a lot for Native American consciousness, especially in terms of Hollywood’s usual portrayal of them as great noisy targets for cowboy firearms. When I saw Last Tango In Paris and mentioned it to an advisor, he shook his head and said, “Ah, he was already crazy by that time.”
That thing that’s most apparent about Johnny in The Wild One is his nearly autistic lack of verbal communication. He hasn’t got much to say beyond the famous desire to rebel against, whatever we got. This response goes a long way toward amusing the dames at the little dirty town where Johnny soon falls for the daughter of a pub. But it’s like watching insects mate. So little is said, and the camera’s flipping back and forth between the two actors big moon-pie faces, glowing in black and white, that one is left sort of studying the scenery and wondering about body odor. The rival biker gang arrives and Brando and Lee Marvin (looking like a stick insect) scuffle a bit, but most of what was meant to seem menacing just seems like a Disney version of what leather jacketed bikers were like. They seem to enjoy best just being goofy and befuddling the locals. The local law enforcement is uncustomarily tolerant of much of the foolishness, and even when the bikers cause an elderly fellow to bang up his — Geez, this is an old movie, look at the cars!– 40s era sedan, the bikers laugh about his poor driving and help fix up his car so he can drive it away. The sheriff basically confirms that the old coot is in fact a terrible driver (riiiight) and is reluctant to make much of a stir on the fellows.
Not much goes on (but maybe not much ever really did). Folks become annoyed as they always do with youth malarkey, and malarkey it is, racing, revving engines (electric bikes would be an impossible adaptation, making noise seems the whole point), and guffawing at the lamest of remarks about the locals.
Unfortunately Johnny and Kathie cause the locals some further consternation. Kathie wants Johnny to be her knight and sweep her off to some better world. Johnny has no better world to sweep her off to, but instead of actually talking to her, he basically just shoves her away, leading to some very stagey moments of Kathie hurling herself weeping into his arms. Johnny is so ill equipped for dealing with any kind of human emotion, apparently, he just kind of drops her on the ground and they part. Witnesses assume the worst and what follows is the most remarkably unrealistic kindness from law enforcement one has ever witnessed anywhere in the world. They did say it could never happen again in a million years with a Brando voice over. The gang is allowed to just drive away after a bit of a scuffle and another accident. Johnny says very little, as is the character’s modus, and finally giving Kathie a little smile, leaves her his prized second place trophy, stolen earlier in the film. Aw, sweetness.
Am I missing anything? Maybe small town America was a bit torpid and lazy. Maybe the bikers arriving were more of a thrill than a menance, and maybe this was such an early attempt at trying to express something through a youth culture (it’s kind of fun to think of these WWII era folks as youth culture, but they had to be at some point!) story, that the direction it takes kind of boggles us, we second or third or more generations removed from these much copied old films.
This is running about 4 bills on Prime (USA) and great for the historicity I suppose, and for the laugh at the green screen riding shots with the film working behind them. I suppose the bikes are the horses and the leather no more than waxed canvas rain slickers. At least they didn’t feel it necessary to have a shoot-em-up.