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The 1950s
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The Wild One

The Wild One

During the weekend of July 4, 1947, four thousand members of a motorcycle club roared into the sleepy little town of Hollister, California, and tore the place apart. They ran their bikes into cafes and bars, drank up every drop of liquor in town, destroyed furniture and property, and terrorized the townspeople. After two days of wild partying, they pulled up stakes and rode away. The incident was dramatized in an article in Harper's magazine which attracted the attention of producer Stanley Kramer who finally developed it into a film six years later entitled The Wild One, 1954 (The originally working title was The Cyclists' Raid).

Marlon Brando, who had impressed critics with his film debut as an embittered paraplegic in a previous Stanley Kramer production, The Men (1950), was cast in the lead role of Johnny, the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. In preparing for his role, he brushed up on motorcycling technique so he could do his own riding and selected his own wardrobe of boots, jeans, leather jacket and cap which he wore to and from the studio.

In the biography, Stanley Kramer: Filmmaker by Donald Spoto, the director said, "I gathered together a band of motorcyclists...Brando and I talked to them, and then the writer Ben Maddow was brought in. But he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee so John Paxton took over the script. These guys were a new breed, and there weren't many of them around...A lot of the dialogue is taken from our actual conversations with them. All the talk about "We gotta go, that's all...just gotta move on' was something we heard over and over again. And one of the most famous lines in the film came from my conversation with them too. I asked one of the kids, 'What are you rebelling against?' and he answered, 'What have you got?'"

Due to the subject matter, Kramer had numerous problems with the studio over dialogue and specific scenes that were deemed unacceptable by the Breen office (Hollywood's self-imposed censorship board). Columbia studio boss Harry Cohn hated the completed film but so did Brando for different reasons. The latter said, "We started out to do something worthwhile, to explain the psychology of the hipster. But somewhere along the way we went off the track. The result was that instead of finding why young people tend to bunch into groups that seek expression, all that we did was show the violence."

Audiences, however, felt differently and The Wild One is now seen as a remarkable social document from the Eisenhower era that heralded the arrival of a new subculture. The film was the first in a long line of rebel protagonists that would continue with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock (1957), and sixties biker films like The Wild Angels (1966) and Easy Rider (1969). The Wild One would also have a profound influence on underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger and his motorcycle fetish film, Scorpio Rising, 1964 (In one scene, a biker prepares for his evening ride by watching The Wild One on television).

Director: Laszlo Benedek
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Ben Maddow (uncredited), John Paxton, based on the novel "The Cyclists' Raid" by Frank Rooney
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Editor: Al Clark
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Marlon Brando (Johnny Strabler/Narrator), Mary Murphy (Kathie Bleeker), Robert Keith (Sheriff Harry Bleeker), Lee Marvin (Chino), Jay C. Flippen (Sheriff Singer), Peggy Maley (Mildred).
BW-80m. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford



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