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WOSTER: Viral video of NY bike gang recalls iconic Brando roles

Terry Woster, Daily Republic columnist  By now, everyone in the country has seen the video of a biker gang terrorizing a motorist in New York.

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The thing went viral, or whatever those things do when some random person uses a phone to capture images of outlandish behavior in the wild. (This was actually kind of a positive use of a phone camera, to my way of thinking. There would be less information overload, though, if folks only posted this sort of video or photograph and not all of the other stuff that clogs Internet sites.) It was a shocking bit of imagery, an aggressive video game brought to life.

When I first heard of the “biker gang” incident, the image I pulled from my mind didn’t have a group of folks riding the sleek, speedy little motorcycles that appeared on the video. No, I thought immediately of a bunch of tough-looking guys dressed in black denim jeans, black leather jackets and sturdy black boots. I thought of Marlon Brando in the early 1950s movie “The Wild One.”

Brando played a drifter of a bike-gang leader named Johnny Strabler. He and his Black Rebels gang terrorized a small town as they battled things out with a rival biker gang. The only other actor I can remember from the movie was Lee Marvin, but I remember how tough-guy Johnny Strabler had a conscience of sorts and sometimes was trouble by his anti-social behavior. I also remember this bit of dialogue:

“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”

“Whadda you got?”

I’m not able to work up an image of those crotch-rocket riding bikers in New York summarizing all the rebellion in the world into three words the way Brando did.

“The Wild One” was followed a year or so later by “On the Waterfront,” another marvelous Marlon Brando film that also included Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and an unknown young actress named Eva Marie Saint. “On the Waterfront” is one of the rare things that makes me wish cable television and the classic film channels had come along sooner. I only saw “On the Waterfront” once when it played the State Theater in Chamberlain. It was years and years later before I could watch it over and over on the oldies channels. It was worth the wait to hear this bit from Brando to his brother Charley, played by Rod Steiger:

“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.”

Like many people, I’ve followed the story line of the New York biker gang. After all, it was trending for quite a while. (I don’t get the whole purpose of trending, but I’ll take the weight for that. I just haven’t put much time into it.)

But I really got to pondering those early Brando movies after I read a column by Bill O’Reilly Monday in The Daily Republic. O’Reilly writes now and then about his efforts to draw young people away from their handheld communication devices and video games long enough to take walks in the woods or play football in a vacant lot (yeah, like there are any of those left around that don’t have big “No Trespassing” signs posted) or, as in the recent column, watch classic movies.

O’Reilly described in his recent column his attempt to get the kids to watch “American Graffiti.” The young ones seemed not to mind the crash scene at the end, but they were bored and on their phones (which means looking at them, not talking over them) within a few minutes of opening credits.

Maybe I’m biased, because when the promotional material for “American Graffiti” asks, “Where were you in ’62?” I answer, “Being a senior in high school, just like the characters in the movie.” Even so, it was a great, funny, touching film that captured a unique moment in our history.

Maybe if O’Reilly had just taken the movie-ending drag race scene and posted it to a social media site with a “You have to see this!” notice, he’d have gotten the kids’ attention.