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Harley Davidson & The Movies - Fifty Years Of Movie Parts - Articles Surfing

The most recent film starring the American icon, the Harley Davidson motorcycle, was called 'Wild Hogs'. Named after the nickname given to its riders in the 1970's, this family comedy with an all star cast including John Travolta didn't quite meet its hyped expectations. Falling flat in plot and more importantly, script, the movie was a disappointing attempt at capturing the lure of the Harley and the thrill of the open road. It should have been no surprise. Putting Disney together with Harley Davidson was a little like asking John Carpenter to do a remake of Bambi. " Nice death scene, but it didn't quite capture the mood of the original!"

Hollywood however, has had a love hate relationship with this most unlikely of stars for more than half a century. It unwittingly threw the spotlight on what had been an American standard of industry, only to demonize the name to the extent that The Harley Davidson Motor Company nearly went bankrupt. As with most relationships though, time heals all. It would be the elevation into cult status of the very same movies that nearly destroyed the company, that would raise the phoenix of Harley Davidson from the fire, and turn it into the iconic symbol that it is today.

As with the careers of most movie stars, early appearances and bit parts are mostly forgotten. You may catch a glimpse of a Harley in WWII movies. (The motorcycles were supplied to the army as utility transport during both World Wars until the Jeep took over as the main utility vehicle in 1942). The big break for the Harley Davidson came in 1953 when it was cast alongside, or should I say under, Marlon Brando in The Wild One. The movie, which told the story of Jonny, the bike gang rebel, reflected the tone of rebellion sweeping America at the time amongst the nations teenage youth.

Unlike today however, 1950's society was not one driven by youth culture. The impact of the openly anti-establishment images that the genre portrayed did not spark a boom in sales for Harley Davidson as it would later achieve for such products as Ray-Ban sunglasses following the 1982 movie Top Gun. The effect in fact, was the opposite, leading the motorbike manufacturer into a period of declining sales. Conservative, middle America in the 50's was not willing to support what Harley Davidson had become and the youth generation that idolized the films and their stars were not yet in charge of the finances to supplement their dreams.

Whilst commercially Harley Davidson was in trouble, its portrayal in movies continued to flourish. The notable peak in came in 1969 with the movie 'Easy Rider'. Once again cast as the bad boys favourite mode of transportation, the Harley Davidson Chopper cruising the open highway, will always epitomize freedom and rebellion. Maybe it is this dichotomy of emotions, so fundamental to American history and the 'American Dream' that has been the backbone of the Harleys endurance.

The nineties saw Mickey Rourke and Don Jonson take up the gauntlet, although in this film it was Mickey Rourke's character that bestowed the Name Harley Davidson to the title of the film. Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man once again cast the character of the rough neck to, yes you guessed it, Harley Davidson.

As the nineties progressed, the teenagers that had idolized Marlon Brando and those early biker movies in the 50's were maturing into the wealth of America. Like an old friendship lost but never forgotten, it was these middle aged rebels of yester-year that would rekindle the corporate fortunes of Harley Davidson. they customized their bikes to stand out in a crowd and create for themselves a separate identity apart from the rest of the corporate clones. They were rebels that may have succumbed to the corporate ladder but now had the finances to relive the youth they could never afford.

So, it is with somewhat of a saddened heart, that the movie that was to portray the story of this revival and tell the story of those 50's youth reborn, should have turn out to be such a damp squib. Maybe Harleys executives still feel the pinch of the bad boy image and this is why they turned to Disney to tell the story. Personally, I think they should have gone with Tarrentino, the guts and the glory, the true Harley Davidson.

Submitted by:

Neil Ebsworth

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