Laslo Benedek was brought to Hollywood from Hungary–where he had been a writer, editor and photographer–by MGM, and his first few films were undistinguished programmers. His third, however, was quite a bit better: Death of a Salesman (1951), the screen version of Arthur Miller’s classic play. Although trashed by critics at the time for, among other things, its “staginess” (Benedek said that he wanted to keep the work’s theatricality intact), overlooked is the fact that Benedek drew out convincing, evocative performances from Kevin McCarthy, Cameron Mitchell, Fredric March and Mildred Dunnock.
Benedek’s next film, however, is the one he’ll be remembered for: The Wild One (1953). This granddaddy of all biker flicks is amusingly tame–some might even say lame–by today’s standards, but it caused quite a commotion in its day (it was banned in England and was railed against by conservative religious and social pressure groups in the US as yet one more example of how Hollywood was “corrupting the youth of America”). The film is actually not all that much, being rather slow-going and the “bikers” coming across more like bratty teenagers than dangerous rampaging hoods, but it struck a chord with young people and parents alike–for different reasons, of course–and was far and away the most successful film of Benedek’s career.