The Wild One

The Wild One is a 1953 American film directed by László Benedek and produced by Stanley Kramer. It is most noted for the character of Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando), whose persona became a cultural icon of the 1950s. The Wild One is considered to be the original outlaw biker film, and the first to examine American outlaw motorcycle gang violence.[2][3][4]

The Wild One
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLászló Benedek
Produced byStanley Kramer
Screenplay byJohn Paxton
Ben Maddow
Based on"The Cyclists' Raid"
by Frank Rooney
StarringMarlon Brando
Mary Murphy
Robert Keith
Narrated byMarlon Brando
Music byLeith Stevens
CinematographyHal Mohr
Edited byAl Clark
Stanley Kramer Pictures Corp.[1]
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 30, 1953 (1953-12-30)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film's screenplay was based on Frank Rooney's short story "The Cyclists' Raid", published in the January 1951 Harper's Magazine and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 1952. Rooney's story was inspired by sensationalistic media coverage of an American Motorcyclist Association motorcycle rally that got out of hand on the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 in Hollister, California. The overcrowding, drinking and street stunting were given national attention in the July 21, 1947, issue of Life, with a staged photograph of a wild drunken man on a motorcycle.[5] The events, conflated with the newspaper and magazine reports, Rooney's short story, and the film The Wild One are part of the legend of the Hollister riot.


The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club (BRMC), a gang led by Johnny Strabler,[6][7] rides into Carbonville, California, during a motorcycle race and causes trouble. A member of the gang, Pidgeon, steals the second-place trophy (the first place one being too large to hide) and presents it to Johnny. Stewards and policemen order them to leave.

The bikers head to Wrightsville, which only has one elderly, conciliatory lawman, Chief Harry Bleeker, to maintain order. The residents are uneasy, but mostly willing to put up with their visitors. When their antics cause Art Kleiner to swerve and crash his car, he demands that something be done, but Harry is reluctant to act, a weakness that is not lost on the interlopers. This accident results in the gang having to stay longer in town, as one member injured himself falling off his motorcycle. Although the young men become more and more boisterous, their custom is enthusiastically welcomed by Harry's brother Frank who runs the local cafe-bar, employing Harry's daughter, Kathie, and the elderly Jimmy.

At Frank's cafe, Johnny meets Kathie and asks her out to a dance being held that night. Kathie politely turns him down, but Johnny's dark, brooding personality visibly intrigues her. When Mildred, another local girl, asks him, "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?", he answers "Whaddaya got?" Johnny is attracted to Kathie and decides to stay a while. However, when he learns that she is the policeman's daughter, he changes his mind. A rival biker gang, the Beetles, arrive and their leader, Chino, bears a grudge against Johnny. Chino reveals the two groups used to be one large gang before Johnny split it up. When Chino takes Johnny's trophy, the two start fighting and Johnny wins.

Meanwhile, local Charlie Thomas stubbornly tries to drive through, he hits a parked motorcycle and injures Meatball, one of Chino's bikers. Chino pulls Charlie out and leads both gangs to overturn his car. Harry intervenes and starts arresting Chino and Charlie, but when other townspeople remind Harry that Charlie would cause problems for him in the future, he only takes Chino to the station. Later that night some Beetles members harass Dorothy, the telephone switchboard operator into leaving, thereby disrupting the townspeople's communication, while the BRMC abducts Charlie and puts him in the same jail cell as Chino, who is too drunk to leave with the gang.

Later, as both gangs wreck the town and intimidate the inhabitants, some bikers led by Gringo chase and surround Kathie, but Johnny rescues her and takes her on a long ride in the countryside. Frightened at first, Kathie comes to see that Johnny is genuinely attracted to her and means her no harm. When she opens up to him and asks to go with him, he rejects her. Crying, she runs away. Johnny drives off to search for her. Art sees and misinterprets this as an attack. The townspeople have had enough. Johnny's supposed assault on Kathie is the last straw. Vigilantes led by Charlie chase and catch Johnny and beat him mercilessly, but he escapes on his motorcycle when Harry confronts the mob. The mob give chase, but Johnny is hit by a thrown tire iron and falls. His riderless motorcycle strikes and kills Jimmy.

Sheriff Stew Singer arrives with his deputies and restores order. Johnny is initially arrested for Jimmy's death, with Kathie pleading on his behalf. Seeing this, Art and Frank step forward and testify that Johnny was not responsible for the tragedy, with Johnny being unable to thank them. The motorcyclists are ordered to leave the county, albeit paying for all damage. However, Johnny returns alone to Wrightsville, and re-visits the cafe to say goodbye to Kathie one final time. He first tries to hide his humiliation and acts as though he's leaving after getting a cup of coffee, but then he returns, genuinely smiles, and gives her the stolen trophy as a gift.



Home media

The Wild One was released first of VHS and then on DVD. In the U.S. a DVD was issued in November 1998 by Sony Pictures.[8] In 2013 Sony Pictures first released it on Blu-ray in Germany with three extra features including an introduction by Karen Kramer (Stanley Kramer's wife) and two featurettes.[9] A U.S. and Canadian Blu-ray was released in 2015 by Mill Creek Entertainment with no extra features.[10]


Critical reception

The Wild One was generally well received by film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 81% critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.06/10.[11] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader wrote: "Legions of Brando impersonators have turned his performance in this seminal 1954 motorcycle movie into self-parody, but it's still a sleazy good time."[12] Variety noted that the film "is long on suspense, brutality and sadism ... All performances are highly competent."[13]


In the United Kingdom, the film was banned by the British Board of Film Censors for fourteen years.[14] On November 21, 1967, the film received an 'X' certificate[15][16] and was first seen by the UK public at the 59 Club in Paddington, London in 1968.[17]

According to the book, Triumph Motorcycle In America, Triumph motorcycle's then-importers, Johnson Motors, objected to the prominent use of Triumph motorcycles in the film. However, later, Gil Stratton Jr, who played "Mouse" in the film, advertised Triumph motorcycles in the 1960s when he was a famous TV sports announcer. As of 2014, the manufacturers were publicly identifying Brando as a celebrity who had helped to "cement the Triumph legend".[18]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Johnny Strabler: "What've you got?"
– Nominated[19]

The persona of Johnny as portrayed by Brando became an influential image in the 1950s. His character wears long sideburns, a Perfecto-style motorcycle jacket and a tilted cap; he rides a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T. His haircut helped to inspire a craze for sideburns, followed by James Dean and Elvis Presley, among others.[21] Some butch gays began to imitate Brando by wearing black leather jackets, a black leather cap, black leather boots and jeans and, if they could afford it, by also riding motorcycles.[22]

Presley also used Johnny's image as a model for his role in Jailhouse Rock.[23]

James Dean bought a Triumph TR5 Trophy motorcycle to mimic Brando's own Triumph Thunderbird 6T motorcycle that he used in the film.[21]

One story maintains that The Beatles took their name from the other motorcycle club led by Lee Marvin, the Beetles, as referred to in The Beatles Anthology (though as aforementioned, the film was banned in Britain until 1967). The Beatles themselves denied that, stating that their inspiration for the name was the group Buddy Holly and the Crickets.[24]

The name of American band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was inspired by the film.[25][26]

The exchange between Mildred and Johnny is repeated in The Simpsons episode "Separate Vocations".[27]


  1. The Wild One - AFI | Catalog - American Film Institute
  2. Pratt, Alan R. (2006), "6 Motorcycling, Nihilism, and the Price of Cool", in Rollin, Bernard E.; Gray, Carolyn M.; Mommer, Kerri; et al. (eds.), Harley-Davidson and Philosophy: Full-Throttle Aristotle, Open Court, p. 25
  3. Veno, Arthur; Gannon, Ed (2002), The Brotherhoods: Inside the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs, Allen & Unwin, pp. 25–26, ISBN 9781865086989
  4. Dixon, Wheeler Winston; Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey (2008), A Short History of Film, Rutgers University Press, p. 190, ISBN 9780813544755
  5. "Cyclist's Holiday; He and his friends terrorize a town", Life, Time Inc, p. 31, July 21, 1947, ISSN 0024-3019, retrieved January 22, 2015
  6. Tim Dirks, "Filmsite movie review: The Wild One", AMC Filmsite, retrieved January 22, 2015, It was the first feature film to examine outlaw motorcycle gang violence in America.
  7. Christopher Gair (2007). The American Counterculture. Edinburgh University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-7486-1989-4.
  8. The Wild One DVD | United States | Sony Pictures | 1953 | 79 min | Nov 10, 1998
  9. The Wild One Blu-ray | Germany | Der Wilde Sony Pictures | 1953 | 76 min | Rated FSK-16 | Jun 13, 2013
  10. The Wild One Blu-ray | United States | Mill Creek Entertainment | 1953 | 79 min | Not rated | Mar 17, 2015
  11. "The Wild One". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  12. Kehr, Dave. "The Wild One". Chicago Reader.
  13. Variety Staff (December 31, 1952). "Review: 'The Wild One'". Variety.
  14. "THE WILD ONE (N/A)". British Board of Film Classification. January 18, 1954. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  15. "THE WILD ONE (X)". British Board of Film Classification. November 21, 1967. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  16. Timothy Shary; Alexandra Seibel (2007). Youth culture in global cinema. University of Texas Press. p. 17.
  17. Gary Robertson (2007). Gangs of Dundee. Luath Press Ltd. p. 22.
  18. Triumph Heritage at Triumph Motorcycles official website. Accessed 18 October 2014
  19. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  20. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  21. Dr. Martin H. Levinson (2011), Brooklyn Boomer: Growing Up in the Fifties, iUniverse, ISBN 1-4620-1712-6, p.81.
  22. "Bay Area Reporter". p. Page 31 Scott Brogan leather column. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  23. Burton I. Kaufman & Diane Kaufman (2009), The A to Z of the Eisenhower Era, Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-7150-5, p.38.
  24. Dave Persails (1994). The Beatles: What's In A Name. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  25. Dye, David (August 9, 2007). "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Gutsy Rock 'n' Roll". NPR.
  26. Eric James Abbey (2006),Garage Rock and Its Roots: Musical Rebels and the Drive for Individuality, McFarland,ISBN 0786451254, pp.91-93.
  27. Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. Created by Matt Groening; edited by Ray Richmond and Antonia Coffman. (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 0060952520. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M. ISBN 0-06-095252-0, 978-0-06-095252-5. p. 83.
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