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The Wild One

Year: 1953
Director: Laszlo Benedeck
Cast: Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin
Some films grow to be modern mythologies. There were probably a dozen movies about rebel bikers in the 1950s, and they're as forgotten as their forgotten stars and directors.

Only the iconic image of Brando in the crooked hat and leathers sells this film, and the emotive response to that famous picture is a stronger force than the film itself. In fact, this is where motorcycle gang subculture and all its trappings, customs and dress started - we owe the film more for that than for the story.

A motorcycle gang rides into a small California town led by Johnny (Brando) to cause trouble. It says much about the time the film was made that the dangerous, rebellious youths are so just for wearing black leather jackets and poking fun at the locals.

Johnny's veneer of snarling contempt for society is bought undone by falling in love with the cute café waitress Kathy, and things turn nasty under the useless cop who refuses to do his job as the townspeople take the law into their own hands, visiting violence.

It's hard to tell whether the acting prowess Brando became known for was on display here; his trademark mumble is partly formed, his piercing eyes look unusual coming from such a young face, and it doesn't seem a big stretch for him with a minimum of emotional investment or output. He is however the original Rebel Without a Cause.

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