REVIEW: The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

REVIEW: The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)


A film titled “The Girl on a Motorcycle” sounds like something that would be up your alley, right? Directed by the talented English cinematographer Jack Cardiff, the 1968 film stars French sex symbol Alain Delon as the bespectacled and seductive literature professor Daniel, and English singer/songwriter/sometimes-Mick-Jagger-lover Marianne Faithfull as Rebecca. Released in France as La Motocyclette (after the 1966 André Pieyre de Mandiargues novel it was based on), and in the US as the unpoetic but accurate Naked Under Leather, it was a surprise hit in Britain.

Note: viewers must have looser morals than Mary Whitehouse/Desiree Carthorse; within the first five minutes (including a minute of excitement inducing opening titles), Rebecca has her clothes literally whipped off while trick riding a horse in a bizarre circus ring dream sequence, shortly followed by ‘artsy’ superimposed birds and clowns. A minute later she is swanning about in her French home in the nude, shimmying herself into a skin tight fleece lined leather Catwoman-esque bodysuit by Lanvin, and stealing away from her slightly boring schoolteacher husband of two months to see her lover, Daniel, on the 1967 Harley Davidson Electra Glide he cunningly presented to her as a wedding gift. Much of the rest of the film is her journey from Alsace to Heidelberg, interspersed with her flashbacks, erotic fantasy, inner monologue, and rambling pontification.

It has a feel not unlike classic James Bond, in part for the rich 60s colour scheme, fast motion during skiing and racing scenes, occasionally awkward dubbing, general silliness, and overarching misogyny (more than one person calls her a stupid girl, she refers to herself as a silly bitch, and there is more than a little butt slapping and gratuitous cleavage), but most likely for the brilliant soundtrack by composer Les Reed, who was the pianist in the John Barry Seven from 1959-1962. Unfortunately it has little of the humour of our favourite secret agent but does feature a lecture on free love set in the gentleman’s club of my dreams, complete with wood panelled walls, fireplace, and perfectly patinaed leather club chairs.

The film contains more girl than motorcycle (and has been widely described as more style than substance), but it captures some gloriously pretty vistas of European countryside, and succeeds in entertaining. The dramatic ending is particularly memorable (if a little predictable) and the solarisation treatment of more erotic scenes as a form of self-censorship (also inexplicably used in some of the riding scenes) bear comparison with the sensory distortion of an acid trip or fever dream. Switches between blue screen and location filming is slightly disruptive, although it is rather amusing to watch Faithfull whisking her hair about in the fan-induced breeze.

It is worth a watch if you are a Francophile who appreciates brazen innuendo, or just want to perve on some classic bikes (Rebecca’s first riding lesson is on Daniel’s red 1967 Norton Atlas). Those stubbornly ATGATT may wish to pass on it though - she only sometimes wears her silver vinyl and black leather trimmed 'helmet'.

Fun fact: in the medium to distant riding shots, Faithfull’s stunt double was Grand Prix champion Bill Ivy in a blonde wig.

Jo is a buxom redhead looking for adventure. She loves her motor children equally, and if you ask really nicely, she might let you take them for a spin. Easily distractible, but also easily obsessed, she is our Editor-in-Chief, resident proof-reader, and zany ideas lady. Caffeine is her fuel of choice.