The Wild One  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Wild One is a 1953 outlaw biker film directed by László Benedek. It is remembered for Marlon Brando's portrayal of the gang leader Johnny Strabler as a juvenile delinquent, dressed in a leather jacket and riding a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T. Acting opposite of Brando was Lee Marvin as a rival gang leader. This low-budget production had Brando playing a "rebel without a cause" two years before James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

The Wild One was based on a short story, "The Cyclists' Raid" by Frank Rooney, in the January 1951 issue of Harper's Magazine. The story was later published in book form as part of The Best American Short Stories 1952. The story took a cue from an actual biker street party on the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 in Hollister, California that was elaborately trumped up in Life Magazine, and dubbed the Hollister riot, with staged photographs of wild motorcycle outlaw revellers. The Hollister event is now celebrated annually. In the film, the town is located somewhere in California.

For the most part, the bikers in the film are just generally rowdy in pursuit of a good time, and don't radiate the sinister menace seen in later biker movies based on the Hells Angels, some of whom actually appeared in those films. Indeed, a group of local vigilantes (led by a businessman) who try to take on the bikers are noticeably more unsympathetic (using their influence to obtain lenient treatment from law enforcement, brutally beating up Brando, and finally causing an accident in which a resident is killed and for which Brando is blamed). Interestingly, Sonny Barger, the notorious founder of the Oakland Hells Angels, stated in his memoir that he identified with Chino, and considered Johnny the bully. Barger later bought the striped shirt Marvin wears in the film at an auction.


Banned in the UK

Deemed scandalous and dangerous, the film was banned by the British Board of Film Censors from showing in the United Kingdom for fourteen years. Its first UK public showing was at the 59 Club in Paddington, London in 1968, to a mostly Rocker audience.


"What are you rebelling against?"
"Whadd'ya got?"

Primary cast

In popular culture

The rock group Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got its name from the name of Brando's motorcycle gang, although in the film, the gang is referred to as "Black Rebels Motorcycle Club". Just as Brando's character in A Streetcar Named Desire caused a national craze of men wearing T shirts, "The Wild One" greatly boosted sales of black leather motorcycle jackets, jeans, white caps, and sun glasses.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Wild One" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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