Add a half star if: You have the chance to see this on the big screen.
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I rented Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, having heard years ago that this was a better film than the Swayze-Leguzamo-Snipes film Too Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar. From the opening scenes, it certainly looked like it was going to be more genuine, more human than that other mid-90's drag-queen picaresque. These characters had more depth, more reason to be traveling cross-country (the country, in the case, being Australia).
The phone rang. It was my friend and movie-compadre Josho. The Wild One, with Marlon Brando was showing at The Parkway. Ah, The Parkway, where tickets are $3, beer and pizza are served, and the best seats in the house are couches. The Parkway, where old movies are shown with fanfare: a raffle, a spinning sweepstakes wheel, a trivia contest, and movie trailers from way back when.
Well, of course I went, buying a box of Girl Scout Cookies on the way to the theater from some old guy who gave me directions when I got a little lost. Josho and Celeyce were there, snuggled into a couch with beers and sandwiches beside them. In short order, I had my amber ale, and the raffle began. My ticket wasn't called, but then it was trivia time: a chance to answer cinematic stumpers in exchange for prizes. But, friends, I didn't win anything here either. I was disappointed that my cinematic trivia knowledge wasn't directly addressed. If Jackie Chan had been the star of The Wild One, well, then I'd be toting a few extra gift certificates in my wallet just now!
At last the theater darkened and we were treated to trailers for: Sal Mineo starring in Dino! And Wild in the Streets (looks like a must-see to your friend Gooden)! Finally, the feature began.
Opening shot: an empty road. For about a minute and a half. Voice over. The camera doesn't do a gosh-darned thing. Off in the distance, riders approaching. They are motorcyclists. They roll right over the camera with a zoom! Cut - a cut! -to a small dusty town. Brando. Marlon Brando. As Johnny, the original bad-ass.
The BRMC - Black Rebel Motor Club - rolls into town, disrupting a "square" motor cycle race. The gang of hell-raisers taunts and trips up the normal racers, flirts chauvinistically with the women, and finally gets ousted by a very tall cop with a no-nonsense demeanor. But one of the pugs swipes the second place trophy to give to big man Brando. His first line slips my mind, but I do recall how the audience all laughed with genuine mirth at his high-pitched little voice, at the incongruity of that voice coming out of such a tough puss. The second place trophy becomes the main symbolic trope of this picture.
It's certainly dated. Nobody is such a clear-cut troublemaker these days. Rebels nowadays (the youths in Go come to mind) rebel quietly, slipping between the cracks. Actor Rupert Everett said, "Drama isn't really allowed to happen anymore, because no one's allowed to be bad enough or good enough or wrong enough in a situation." But back in '53, Johnny is ready to rebel against anything available. The fact that nothing really stands out to be rebelled against is what causes all the trouble. With nowhere to go, all this aggression builds into a needless violence that ricochets and snowballs in this little town, based (according to our Master of Trivia) on Hollister, California, where a similar situation actually took place.
A classic line: one of the young women in the little town says "Black Rebel Motor Club? What are you rebelling against." And Brando says, "What have you got?" Can you say "ba-a-ad ass?" Really stretch out the "bad." Now I know Lisa Simpson delivers this line in a The Simpsons episode, but it just isn't the same.
Despite being such a classic tough-guy, Brando's first high-pitched line was not his only unintentionally funny moment in this film. In one scene, he and the heroine are in the woods, talking about life and stuff. She becomes emotional, begins to cry, and falls on him in an embrace. He pushes her away with an expression on his face like she'd just shown him a pestilent wound on her forearm. This attempt at drama, delivered with such awkward gruffness is delightfully silly in spite of its intention. The rough kissing scene is similar: it's delivered with such an absence of panache that instead of a characterizing moment for Brando, it plays as more of a comedy to today's audience.
To those familiar with Brando as The Godfather, or as Mr. Kurtz,
or in any of his roles after he turned 30, this rough-cut cat will seem
blocky and stumblingly portrayed. The clearest emotion Brando gets across
is scrappiness, followed distantly by unfocussed horniness. Lee Marvin's
gruff comic relief is handled with much more style, further setting off
Brando's apparent lack of acting ability. But next to the trailer for Sal
Mineo in Dino (this entire phrase seemed to be the title of the film),
one gets a perspective on Brando's career at the time: the filmmakers were
launching a new wave of young stars.Who would stick in the mind of the movie
going public? In 1953, it might have been Mineo as easily as Brando or Elvis
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.