From the Dustbins: The Wild Ride

1960; 58 minutes; Drama; United States; Directed by Harvey Berman; produced by Harvey Berman; executive producer: Kinta Zertuche; The Filmgroup Inc.

There are some films that have a certain draw to them despite they’re utter lack of any likable characters and any sense of script writing. In The Wild Ride, most of this draw comes from the unintentional comedy that can be found in a teenage Jack Nicholson looking like he’s either about to fall asleep or look extremely slick as he skirts around the cops by telling them they can sit on it. Dig it, man?

Actually, Jack was 23 when he starred in this 1960 film. And we’re not entirely sure of the age of the character he portrays, car racer Johnny Varron, who is also one of the more unlikable characters in the slew of movies made by The Filmgroup Inc. back in the 1960s. He’s not the only one either, as much of the cast in this movie is wildly unpleasant to watch.

The Wild Ride was first released in 1960, but an 88-minute producer’s cut was released sometime later called Velocity, and starred an older look-alike to Jack Nicholson painting the whole film as a flash back.  But I didn’t want to have to suffer throughout this movie longer than I needed to, so this review is for the hour long original cut.

The Wild Ride starts with Johnny arriving at a party where hip teens grooved to the disembodied bongos and piano playing in the background. This music, while merely okay as film score, doesn’t really feel like the scene of a late 50’s – early 60’s party and, at times, seems to be on a repetitive loop throughout the film, regardless of the fact that none of the dancers are actually dancing to that particular beat at any one point in the film.

The score’s beat changes only slightly to match to an awkward flashback to Johnny driving to the party he was just introduced as entering. Why the movie couldn’t show this linearly rather that cutting to it as a flashback is beyond me, especially as it feels more like Johnny’s evil twin brother upon first experience the cut. The flashback then proceeds to show Johnny running a cop off the road before calling the dying cop “Chicken”, establishing Johnny as a character who’s full of himself and with no sympathetic attributes. The cinematography remains as horrible as one can imagine, with a jittery camera mount on the car and poorly executed day-for-night footage.

"Officer, I think you're a very big man..."

The film cuts back to the present to find another cop crashing the party asking for everyone’s I.D.s in the search for the cop killer. At this point, either the cops forgot how they’re supposed to operate, or the writers of the film forgot how cops are supposed to operate. Both have been known to happen in the past, but the film remains unclear as to which it is in this case. They take Johnny to the police station because he’s being a smart alec and question him as to his whereabouts before the party. This is where Johnny starts talking almost as if he’s coming onto the officer, calling him things like “big man” and “far-out stud”.

The film continues at this pace, showing scene after scene of Johnny ripping people off and just being an absolute jerk. He and his gang hit the lake and talk about how his friend, Dave, needs to ditch his chick because she’s no good for their drag racing gang. The rest of the movie revolves around Johnny trying to get Dave to realize how bad this chick is.

There is literally no depth to any of these character; not even poorly executed depth. Every character is just as shallow and despicable as the next, with the only exception being Dave, who’s being torn between listening to his “best friend” Johnny or staying with his chick. And even Dave’s character is written just as shallow as the rest of them.

The central point of the movie seems to be a race Johnny competes in during the middle of the film, though nothing in it really happens to show any insight to the characters. Most of the racing scene is just more jittery camera mounts and a dull race announcer that sounded like he’d rather have been doing something else that day; all of which to try and reiterate the fact that Johnny is a jerk.

Things start to get out of Johnny’s hands after a falling out he has with his father. Women he thought he had around his finger turn on him, and a plan he contrives to get Dave’s chick broken into either drag racing or rape, I can’t tell which, backfires on him resulting in Dave’s death. The film ends with Johnny turning himself in to the cops and they haul him off. As he’s being towed away, one of the supporting characters in Johnny’s gang vocally sums of the whole movie by saying “This drags, let’s beat it,” before ditching Johnny to face the consequences of his actions.

Whether or not this film did have a theatrical release, in the end the movie appears to be a lazy attempt at a made-for-TV public service announcement film. It uses so many hip 50’s slang that it probably sounded unnatural to the 50’s teen who would have watched it if this film had actually been released in the 50’s, rather than it’s actual release date: June 17th 1960. The film’s only saving grace is that it’s honestly fun to watch Jack Nicholson be so over-the-top slick in every line that comes out of his mouth as he calls cops “far-out studs”. Jack Nicholson’s always entertaining to watch no matter how unlikable his characters can be.

Jack Nicholson (far right) uses the money in his hand to accentuate every point in his line, "Hey! We're. Gonna. Go. On. The town!"


About Stefan D. Byerley
Stefan D. Byerley is an independent filmmaker and freelance visual artist currently residing in North Carolina. He likes detailed storytelling, intriguing imagery, massive bloody violence, crying at the movies, and long walks in the park during the Autumn season.

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