Noir, by the fifties, was turning into an old man’s (or at least grown man’s) game. Sure, there are marvelous examples of the genre even in the late fifties, but it wasn’t fresh anymore. Humphrey Bogart was still cool (and still is, and probably always will be), but he only had four years left to live. At the same time, a new youth-oriented culture was gathering strength, and it was only two years before James Dean burst onto the scene in Rebel Without a Cause. The old acting style was going out of style, and the Method was on its way.
As such, 1953 fell in a transitional period, and this is clearly reflected in the two films Lee Marvin made that year. One, The Big Heat, was a classic noir made by the old master Fritz Lang (62 at the time), complete with good old-fashioned thugs and a femme fatale – the glorious Gloria Grahame, who’s fatal to someone else than you’d expect. The other, The Wild One, was a showcase for one of the new up-an-coming actors, Marlon Brando, and revolved around a new phenomenon: the greaser.