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The working titles of this film were The Cyclists' Raid and Hot Blood. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "This is a shocking story. It could never take place in most American towns-but it did in this one. It is a public challenge not to let it happen again." Frank Rooney's story was based upon an article in Harper's, reporting an incident that happened in the small northern California town of Hollister on Independence Day weekend 1947 when the town was over-run by a gang of outlaw motorcyclists, members of two Los Angeles gangs known as the Booze Fighters and the Nomads. Although three counties sent squads of sheriffs to subdue the drunken bikers, the article claimed there was no violence except among the bikers themselves. According to a February 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film were shot at a ranch near Calabasas, CA.
A June 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that producer Stanley Kramer assigned Edward and Edna Anhalt as associate producers. However, no further information regarding their participation has been found. According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the original script for The Wild One was rejected in early December 1952 on the grounds that it was "a story of violence and lawlessness to such a degree (that it is)... anti-social." Less than one week later, however, PCA head Joseph I. Breen gave tentative approval to a new script. A February 1953 item by columnist Louella Parsons indicated that the PCA would not allow producer Stanley Kramer to release the film abroad. The PCA denied the allegation, claiming it had neither "the authority or inclination" to do so. The film was subsequently banned in England in 1955. Marlon Brando, who was billed above the title, received critical acclaim for The Wild One; the New York Times praised his characterization as appropriately "vicious and relentless," Hollywood Reporter noted his "tremendous, powerful performance" and Variety observed that his "intensity...gets all possible out of the character." Brando's leather jacket, rolled up jeans and biker-boot look from the film has since become an iconic image representing the era's preoccupation with teenage delinquency and typified by the film's famous exchange when a matron asks Brando's character what he is rebelling against and he replies "What d'ya got?"