The Wild One is a 1953 outlaw biker film. It is remembered for Marlon Brando’s portrayal of the gang leader Johnny Stabler as a juvenile delinquent, dressed in a leather jacket and driving 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.
The film version was based on a January, 1951 short story in Harper’s Magazine “The Cyclists’ Raid” by Frank Rooney that was 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 (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.
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, to a mostly Rocker audience being at the then famous 59 Club of Paddington in London.
It is notable that current rock group Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got their name from the name of Brando’s motorcycle gang, although one of the bikers calls the gang “Black Rebels Motorcycle Club”. This also ties in to the 1950’s motif that the band leans toward.
“What are you rebelling against?”
“What have you got?”