APES ON FILM: (UN)Faithfull Traveler – Adorable Nihilism in THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Alain Delon , Marianne Faithfull , Roger Mutton , Marius Goring
Director: Jack Cardiff
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: A
BRD Release Date: 12/13/2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 1595 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz /16-bit
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD from new 4K Master
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Run Time: 91 minutes


Stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place – i.e., after the French cinema verité/new wave filmmaking swept cinema and before the auteur revolution became popularized by the success of EASY RIDER (1969), Jack Cardiff’s THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE seems a wan, “also ran” exercise in youth-oriented filmmaking from someone who had little understanding of the culture he was attempting to portray. Cardiff began his career in the camera department and became a top level cinematographer with films like THE RED SHOES, THE BRAVE ONE, and DEATH ON THE NILE. His transition to directing yielded several gems like SONS AND LOVERS and DARK OF THE SUN. This film was (by Cardiff’s own admission) hatchet-ed by the American censors, but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story, as the 54-year-old-at-the-time director clearly made some bad decisions himself in shooting it.

Rebecca (Faithfull) is a young, petulant newlywed who simply cannot stand the passiveness of her husband Raymond (Mutton) for a moment longer and decides to leave him for her older lover Daniel (Delon), a rogue of a literary professor with whom she’s been having a torrid affair since before her marriage. Daniel is a man damaged by a past relationship who acts out his anger with Rebecca, and cares not a whit for her otherwise. Traveling between her home in Orleans and Daniel’s in Heidelberg on the powerful motorcycle that Daniel gave her as a wedding present, Rebecca reflects on the journey that brought her to leave Raymond and forsake her life of reasonable comfort for what she knows will be an ecstasy of pain with Daniel.

My problems with the film are myriad; there’s no protagonist. It’s really hard to care about a character who is a self-described “silly bitch,” and revels in rubbing her husband’s face in her affair with another man who loathes her. Raymond is a cuckold, Daniel a narcissist. With whom should the viewers identify? Someone should have told Cardiff that there’s no such thing as adorable nihilism. Throughout the film, Rebecca engages in fantasies, flashbacks, and dreams which include circus horse acrobatics, strenuous snow skiing, and motorcycle riding – all potentially dangerous but thrilling pursuits – yet we only ever see Faithfull in a small handful of shots actually doing any of this herself. She’s either being photographed on a camera tow car, in process shots, rear projection, or a stunt double is used. This is an analog for Rebecca; she wants an exciting, danger-filled life but is too much of a coward to actually commit to the experiences. She internalizes all of her loathing and desire throughout the film, shared with the viewer via voiceovers. Another gripe: the sex (and some dream sequence) scenes shift into low resolution solarized posterization visual effects, doubtless in order to hide the more explicit nature of the shots. This effect was contextually current for the time, but became a cliché almost immediately and now just seems quaint.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray presentation of THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE is sourced from a brand new 4K scan, and looks very good for the most part. There are some issues with the solarized effects as stated – they seem lower resolution and have more artifacts than the rest of the picture. Some detail is soft in scenes, but this may be the intent of the cinematographer. Audio is reasonable, well mixed, and robust for the musical score if not the whole film. Dialog was certainly dubbed in post-production, and a bit distracting occasionally. Extras on the disc include a legacy commentary from director Cardiff with a lot of very interesting reminiscences of making the film and the challenges he faced in conveying Rebecca’s stream of consciousness. A new commentary from author and film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas delves more into the nuances of feminism and the biker film genre. Both are worth a listen. Also included is the theatrical trailer and several others.

Is THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE a classic or a misstep? It’s lovely to look at, as is its star, Marianne Faithfull. I can say that it’s certainly provocative, and a film that any viewer will hold a strong opinion about. Whether that opinion is positive or negative is subjective, of course.




Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Retro Fan, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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