What are you rebelling against? asks someone. What've you got? responds surly, leather-jacketed motorcycle punk Marlon Brando. It comes as a disappointment to discover that The Wild One, the quintessential Brando rebel film, is at base a traditional misunderstood youth vs. the nasty system effort, with a particularly banal finale.
Based on a true incident, the film begins with Brando and his motorcyle gang invading a small town after having been kicked out of a cycle competition (but not before stealing the second-prize trophy). Brando's bikers raise hell all day, but some of the townsfolk are shown to be little better than the invaders.
Sheriff Robert Keith, whose daughter (Murphy) has gone fond of Brando, finally responds to the bikers' destructiveness by jailing Lee Marvin, leader of a rival gang. When Marvin's buddies goes on a rampage, Brando exhibits his essential decency by safely escorting the sheriff's daughter out of the melee.
The townsfolk misunderstand, assuming that Brando intends to rape the girl. He is attacked by a vigilante mob led by town hothead Ray Teal, who uses this excuse to exercise his own sadistic tendencies.
Keith breaks up the mob and suggests that Brando leave; he tries to do so, but another angry response from the mob causes him to inadvertently strike and kill a pedestrian. At the subsequent hearing, the girl rushes to Brando's defense.
Though grateful for the unexpected kindness, Brando is constitutionally unable to say thank you and rides out of town alone.
The image of Marlon Brando astride his Triumph has entered movie folklore, just like King Kong on the Empire State Building or the billow-skirted Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grating; it's too bad that The Wild One isn't a more worthy vehicle for Brando's talents.