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The Wild One (1953)

Marlon Brando became an icon to generations of rebels when he donned the jeans, boots, leather jacket, and cap of Johnny Strabler, head of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Although made on a low budget and nowhere near as critically respectable as the films that were earning the rising star Oscar nominations in the early ‘50s, The Wild One struck a chord with audiences. It wasn’t just a box-office hit. It was a symbol, particularly when posters of Brando in the outfit he had picked out for his character became big sellers.

Inspired by a 1947 motorcycle rally that got out of hand and attracted national media coverage, the film depicts the chaos wrought when Brando’s band of cyclists descends on a small town. At first, he tries to keep the members in line. But when a rival gang headed by Lee Marvin turns up, the conflict between the bikers and the locals erupts into violence.

Brando and producer Stanley Kramer met with motorcyclists to research their culture, and some of the film’s dialogue is taken from their actual exchanges. With the star bringing his brooding intensity to the role, what could have been just an exploitation film became a key work in defining a generation of disaffected youth. His performance was the model for Elvis Presley’s work in Jailhouse Rock (1957) and the biker genre that sprung up in the 1960s.

d. László Benedek, 79 minutes, DCP

Presented in a 2K DCP with the restored original mono soundtrack.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures