This fifty-year-old "B" movie begins as a cautionary tale, warning innocent small towns across Eisenhower's America that this could happen to you, too! So, why does Johnny, the film's lead motorcycle punk end up the most sympathetic character? Because he's played by Marlon Brando, silly.

In fact, much of The Wild One is pretty silly. The twenty-man strong B. M. R. C. (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) rides into a nondescript, vaguely suburban small town which resembles 1924 as much as it does 1954. Sure, they disrupt the town's peaceful, dull order, but not so much by what they do as how unorthodox and threatening they look (black leather jackets, loud, unruly vehicles) and act (drag-racing in the town square, drinking, whooping and even camping it up).

In fact, it's pretty innocuous in today's context until the real "bad guys" show up (led by a young, bearded Lee Marvin), and the worst that you can say about them is that they're stinking drunk and want to pick fights with Johnny's gang.

Brando and his cronies speak in a strangely Southern-sounding, nearly black patois, rendering them the '50s equivalent of today's hip-hop lovin' white boys (and part of a long line of outsiders/trailblazers, including the zoot suiters, beats, hippies, punks, etc;). Two of them scat before a wispy old man and succeed in completely (but almost affectionately) bewildering him.

Of course, there's a local girl Brando immediately pursues and naturally, she's a policeman's daughter. She's initially bemused, then taken with him, but never fully seduced. He equally disgusts and enchants her, and the film's smart enough to know that there's no possible future or even hope of falling in love for them. But she comes to his aid when he needs her the most, and their final conversation offers no impossible, sentimental promises.

Even when playing a rebellious tough, Brando's Johnny is emotionally complex and at turns, remarkably sensitive (feminine, even). He starts out as the epitome of stone-faced poseur cool and before the film's end we see him in tears. I have a feeling this reversal was lost on mainstream 50's audiences (just as most of them assumed James Dean was a Rebel Without a Cause a year later, when in fact that film's true rebel was Sal Mineo). Instead of warning upstanding citizens to watch out for people like Johnny, The Wild One ends up making an around-the-way case for acceptance and understanding, tempering its cartoonish antics with a sobering dose of reality and kindness.