The Wild One [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (27th May 2017).
The Film

“The Wild One” (1953)

The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club ride into a small rural town on their revved up bikes, leather jackets, sunglasses, and rambunctious attitudes. The leader is Johnny (played by Marlon Brando), a rebellious kid of few words yet with a powerful force. He takes care of his crew but has no respect for authority or people who get in their way. The gang members start to cause trouble all around by bothering the townsfolk, drinking too much, and making a ruckus, but the police force cannot do much as they are completely outnumbered and technically the riders are not doing anything particularly illegal.

Fun and games aside, Johnny has his eye on Kathie (played by Mary Murphy), a waitress that is trying to stay away from the fuss, but is shyly attracted to the mysterious biker and the gang that followed along. He looks at her in a slight romantic edge but as he learns that she is the daughter of the local police chief Bleeker (played by Robert Keith), he tells her that he has a distaste for the cops. For the gang, leaving the town is not an option at the moment as one of their crew injures his leg badly in an accident, and he needs time to heal. To make things more conflicting, a second bike gang - The Beetles come into town. Led by Chino (played by Lee Marvin), an existing rivalry between him and Johnny are sparked up again, leading to the townsfolk to try to take action into protecting their town and driving the bike gangs away. But at what cost?

“The Wild One” was based on a true event which happened in Hollister, California on July 4th 1947. After WWII, there was a rise in motorcycle culture especially from returning soldiers looking for a sense of adventure and danger - something to counterbalance the experiences of war while also having a way to connect with former soldiers. Prior to WWII, the town of Hollister traditionally had motorcycle events on the 4th of July holidays. Cancelled due to the war, 1947 was the revival of the event, which attracted many biker groups from around the state and elsewhere. Business boomed but so did incidents. There were fights, hundreds of smashed beer bottles, gangs trying to outdo each other, and other commotion led to property damage and some broken bones during the few days. The “Hollister Riot” as it was come to be known was covered by national news which did make things seem worse than they were, but the sensationalism led to a particularly negative image for biker gangs which continued for years on down.

Producer Stanley Kramer decided to make a film based on the event, which became “The Wild One”. There were quite a few changes made, such as giving a love interest to the gang leader, an accidental death, and having a vigilante counterpoint to the townsfolk. The original screenplay had more character development for the townsfolk and their viewpoint rather than the bikers, but the idea was reversed to make the bikers the focal point rather than the town. The film starts with the bikers on a desert road riding into town, rather than the town waiting for the men to appear. While there was style and a feeling of post war angst in the characters, the part that holds the entire story together is the most traditional - the love story.

Bear in mind that the connection between Johnny and Kathie is no ordinary boy-meets-girl story. Johnny is conflicted. He has never had a small town conservative girl and does not know how to interact with her. He is brash, he is mean, and keeps his guard up to keep his cool. He cannot or does not know how to let a girl into his heart but here he is in a typical boy/girl situation and he is stuck. To make things more complicated, the notion that her father is a police officer makes his feelings conflicted. For Kathie her look at Johnny is a life of freedom to do whatever there is to do without feeling a sense of obligation or responsibility which she has all but known in the small town life. Johnny is what gives her a sense of something she would like to have in life, but she also does not know how to let go of her conservative background world. The scenes between Brando and Murphy are the center of the film keeping things together. His body language is more effective than the slang words he speaks, and her interaction with him is a joy to see. Not to diminish the rest of the film, as scenes with the bikers and the action scenes have many memorable moments, with beautiful black and white photography lensed by Hal Mohr and directed by Laslo Benedek. Shot like a western film but with the horses replaced with bikes and ten gallon hats replaced with sunglasses, the film has a traditional feel but with a modernized look.

To say “modern” is a stretch, as the film made in 1953 and based off events in 1947 does have its dated moments. The bikers listen to bebop and jazz music while their slang talk is definitely of its era with words and terminology that sounded cheesy only a few years later. It was before the rock n roll revolution which was just happening at that time, so jazz being the “rebel” soundtrack was on its way out. And to make another dated reference, the scene of the accidental murder by the bike crash is one of the worst effects shots done with bad editing to cover up the fact they couldn’t stage a bike accident to look “real”. It may have been a way to appease the censors, but for modern audiences, the accident scene looks amateurish rather than something of horror.

The film premiered on December 30th 1953 and rolled out to the rest of America in early 1954 theatrically. Brando was already a huge star from his breakout role in “A Streetcar Named Desire” a few years prior and the youth oriented film market opening up. The film was fairly successful but did cause controversy with its subject matter of delinquency and delinquents being the main characters rather than a moral center. Controversy spread to other countries with the United Kingdom being the worst, banning the film entirely. It was not until 1967, a full 14 years later that the ban was overturned. And by that time, the edge the film had was lost. Hard rock, psychedelia, and drug culture were the centers of youth delinquency and the biker gang theme was lost by half a generation.

While “The Wild One” became an instantly dated film, what had survived was biker culture and motorcycles in film culture. Whether watching “The Great Escape” (1963), “Easy Rider” (1969), or “Akira” (1988), the influence the film had on popular culture is undeniable. John Wayne and Randolph Scott were known to ride off into the sunset, and Brando did the same. Just different kind of horsepower.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

Powerhouse Films’ release under their Indicator banner presents the film in 1080p in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The transfer comes from Sony’s HD remaster of the film which was supervised by James Owsley. The black and white image looks quite great though not pristine, granted with the age of the film. There is film grain visible with some very minor instances of damage but nothing very distracting. The image has been cleaned and stabilized looking very natural with good clarity throughout. An excellent job in transferring to Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films.

The film’s runtime is 79:05.

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
The original mono soundtrack is presented in lossless form. Dialogue is always easy to understand with no issues of distortion or hisses. Music and effects are also great with sounds of the bikes coming along with the musical score. It will not blow you away but it is in keeping with the original materials rather than an unnecessary remixed audio track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. Timed well, there are no issues of spelling or grammar mistakes here.

Extras

Powerhouse Films is releasing “The Wild One” as a limited edition of 3000 Blu-ray+DVD dual format set, with the film and all the bonus content found on the Blu-ray repeated on the DVD but in standard definition. The limited edition set also includes a booklet. Once the limited edition sells out, it will be replaced with a Blu-ray only edition without the DVD or the booklet.

Audio commentary with film historian Jeanine Basinger
Basinger gives a solo commentary with a lot of information in the rather short 80 minute runtime. Topics covered are about the fashion iconography and the impact of Brando, biographies of many of the cast and crew, some behind the scenes information, and breakdowns of many of the iconic scenes. This commentary was originally featured on the Sony US DVD boxset of “The Stanley Kramer Film Collection” from 2008.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Wild One and the BBFC" featurette (25:11)
Richard Falcon who formerly worked at the British Board of Film Classification gives information about the difficulty “The Wild One” had with receiving a classification from the UK, with the initial rejection in 1953 to the subsequent screenings in 1967. A very fascinating discussion on the long road the film had at getting a proper British release.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Introduction by Karen Kramer (1:22)
Stanley Kramer’s widow gives a short introduction on the film and the true events of Hollister, California. This featurette was originally featured on the Sony US DVD boxset of “The Stanley Kramer Film Collection” from 2008 and later on the Sony International Blu-rays from 2013.

"Hollister, California" featurette (27:49)
This featurette showcases the town where the real incident occurred as well as a background on motorcycle gangs with interviews from residents of Hollister and motorcycle gang members. This featurette was originally featured on the Sony US DVD boxset of “The Stanley Kramer Film Collection” from 2008 and later on the Sony International Blu-rays from 2013.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Brando: An Icon Is Born" featurette (18:38)
Featuring interviews with Taylor Hackford, Dennis Hopper, Garry Marshall, Elizabeth Ashley, Karen Kramer, and vintage Stanley Kramer interview footage, the stars talk about the impact and the importance of Marlon Brando, especially with his role in “The Wild One”. This featurette was originally featured on the Sony US DVD boxset of “The Stanley Kramer Film Collection” from 2008 and later on the Sony International Blu-rays from 2013.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Super 8 Version (19:59)
Prior to DVDs or videotapes, people rented or purchased condensed versions of their favorite films in the Super 8 film format in the 1970s. For ”The Wild One”, some additional narration was placed to bridge some scenes together to have the narrative make sense, but as the entire plot between Johnny and Kathie is basically removed, the 20 minute version is just a biker crazed version of the story which is not very worthwhile. Considering the source print is a vintage Super 8 film, it is very shoddy but in a watchable state.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 1.0 with optional English HoH subtitles

Image Gallery (32 pages)
Included are black and white behind the scenes photos and three color posters for the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Theatrical Trailer (1:36)
The original trailer is presented, which is an upscale from a standard definition source.
in 1080p (upscaled) AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 1.0 with no subtitles

Booklet
The booklet includes essays, photos, credits, and transfer information. The first essay is “Road to Nowhere, Road to Everywhere: America’s Original Rebel Without a Cause” by Kat Ellinger which is an excellent breakdown of the film and its themes. “Leslie Halliwell and The Wild One” is in two parts, written by Halliwell. The first is a review of the film from Sight & Sound magazine in 1955 and the second part is an excerpt from his 1985 autobiography “Seats in All Parts: Half a Lifetime at the Movies” recalling the screening and controversy of the film. Next is “Laslo Benedek on The Wild One” which is a 1955 article written by Benedek defending the film as an artistic work after the UK ban. “The Wild One: Critical Response” are excerpts from a few contemporary reviews of the film, which not all were positive.

DVD Copy
The DVD offers identical content but on a PAL region 0 DVD.

Prior to this Blu-ray edition, the film was released on Blu-ray internationally by Sony in various regions, which included the featurettes and introduction but with audio in lossy Dolby Digital. In the United States it was released by Mill Creek which had a lossless audio track but no extras. With the UK release having lossless audio, all the extras from the Sony Blu-ray, plus the DVD commentary and adding a few additional exclusives, it easily is the best version currently available.

Packaging

This marks #17 in the Indicator Series releases from Powerhouse Films.

Overall

Iconic and controversial when it was first released, time has tamed the wilder side of the film but it is undeniable that “The Wild One” continues to live on. With an excellent transfer in both audio and video with extras eclipsing every other version out there, the Powerhouse Films release is easily the definitive edition. If someone ever quotes Johnny’s line “Whaddya got?”, just whip this out and be done with it. Highly recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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