Marlon Brando is Johnny Strabler, the leader of a motorbike gang who arrive in the (fictional) town of Wrightsville, California, and, initially just being boisterous are welcomed (or at the least, tolerated) by the residents. However, when the gang’s behaviour turns dangerous and threatening, the town’s residents decide to take matters into their own hands. Meanwhille, Johnny meets a young woman named Kathie (played by Mary Murphy), who works in the local cafe, and despite their very different background and lifestyles, there is an attraction between them.
I wasn’t sure whether I would really like this film, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. Brando epitomises 50s rebellion, and (sorry to be shallow) he oozes sex appeal. I loved his portrayal of Johnny, as a man who is more than what he appears on the surface; it’s clear that Johnny has not known much love and affection in his life, and is looking for something to rebel against (when asked, “What are you rebelling against?” he answers, “Whaddaya got?”). He almost steals every scene he is in, and would have done, were it not for the fine performance of Mary Murphy as Kathie, who is very attracted to Johnny, but doesn’t understand his lifestyle. Robert Keith is also notable for his role as Chief Bleeker, the town’s only law enforcement officer, who seems unable to cope with the gang.
The story takes place over just a few days, and despite feeling somewhat aged (but come on, this film is 61 years old!), the film captures the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere of the town.
Overall, this was a pleasant surprise for me, and a film that I would definitely recommend, not only for it’s excellent performances, but also for being a classic, and one of the first films to highlight the issue of gang violence.
Year of release: 1953
Director: Laslo Benedek
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Writers: Frank Rooney (short story), John Paxton, Ben Maddow
Main cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin, Jay C. Flippen, Hugh Sanders, Ray Teal