Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Wild One (1953)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Wild One (1953)

In director Laslo Benedek's (and producer Stanley Kramer's) crime drama - a sub-genre-defining motorcycle outlaw biker film; the Columbia Pictures' film (co-scripted by John Saxon) was based upon Frank Rooney's Harper Magazine's January 1951 short story "Cyclists' Raid" and became a landmark film of 50s rebellion; it was the first feature film to examine outlaw motorcycle gang violence in America; Marlon Brando portrayed a stunning, brooding, nomadic character - a delinquent archetype - in one of his central and early roles, that popularized the sale of black leather jackets and motorcycles after the film's release:

  • a statement in the opening title credits sequence referred to a real-life incident that inspired the film - a 4th of July, two-day weekend rally in 1947 of the American Motorcyclist Association in the small town of Hollister, CA (south of San Jose); the event that brought together thousands of people and two LA gangs (the Booze Fighters and the Nomads) was widely publicized (and sensationalized with reports of wild racing, brawling and drinking) a few weeks later in a Life Magazine issue
  • the opening title, shown over a long, ground-level shot of an empty, open country road and its white median strip was a memorable, cinematographic sequence: ("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")
Opening Titles
  • in the initial scene, 40 black leather-jacketed cyclists (members of 'The Black Rebels') roared directly into the stationary, low-angled camera; the motorcycle gang rode in a tightly-knit squadron formation, led by sideburned, leather-jacketed anti-hero Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) riding on a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird T6 - the film's narrator, who had just spoken in voice-over about the townspeople's repressive, backlashing, vigilante-style behavior toward his gang of outsiders -- calling the encounter a "whole mess": "It begins here for me on this road. How the whole mess happened, I don't know. But I know it couldn't happen again in a million years. Maybe I could have stopped it early. But once the trouble was on its way, I was just goin' with it..."
  • the disruptive bikers rode into the main drag of Carbonville and interrupted a legitimate, weekend motorcycle race competition/meet in Sage Valley; they were derided as an "outlaw outfit," and were quickly thrown out of the competition by Sheriff Singer (Jay C. Flippen) and told to "Hit the road...get goin'," but not before they stole the second-place prize trophy (the first place prize trophy was too big to carry and "two feet high"); as they raced off, a race official asked: "What are they tryin' to prove anyway?", and the Sheriff answered: "Lookin' for somebody to push 'em around so they can get sore and show how tough they are. They usually find it some place, sooner or later"

Johnny Eyeing the Race Trophies Before Stealing the 2nd Place Prize

Sheriff Singer (Jay C. Flippen)

Theft of Small 2nd Place Trophy
  • in the nearby sleepy town of Wrightsville, the bikers continued to cause havoc by dragging on the main street; they bet that the loser would have to buy beers for everyone at Bleeker's: "Last guy to the door of that joint buys beers. Last guy in buys"; the gang was forced to remain longer in town when during their mischievous and dangerous act of rowdiness, one of the bikers broke his ankle when he collided with a car driven by elderly Art Kleiner (Will Wright)
  • the main characters were introduced in Bleeker's - the film's central gathering place - lenient and weak-willed police chief Harry Bleeker (Robert Keith) - and his brother - opportunistic owner-merchant of the local bar/cafe Uncle Frank Bleeker (Ray Teal); Harry's attractive, clean-cut daughter Kathie (Mary Murphy) worked for her uncle as a hard-working waitress, along with elderly dishwasher/bar helper Jimmy (William Vedder); soon after, Johnny was drawn into the bar/cafe to Kathie

Kathie Bleeker with Elderly Dishwasher/Bar Helper Jimmy (William Vedder)

Police Chief Harry Bleeker (Robert Keith)

Cafe Owner Uncle Frank Bleeker (Ray Teal)
  • although Kathie and Johnny represented two very opposing lifestyles: a square, stable, but restricted hick vs. a hip wanderer, he was obviously attracted to her and interested in spending more time to get to know her better; Johnny pressured her for a date that evening to a Carbonville dance, and an invitation to dance to the jukebox music, but she politely demurred, and asked him about where the bikers were going; he scoffed at her and answered that he represented forbidden freedom: "Oh man, we just gonna go"

Johnny in the Cafe with Kathie

Johnny in the Bar with Kathie - A Contrast in Lifestyles

Johnny Offering Kathie the Stolen Trophy
  • in the film's most memorable scene, as Johnny and his boys were guzzling beer and dancing with some of the ladies in the bar, one blonde female dance partner named Mildred (Peggy Maley), the owner of the local beauty shop, questioned Johnny: "Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"; while tapping out a jazzy beat on the top of the jukebox, he raised his eyebrow and drawled his amorphous reason for rebellion: "Whaddya got?"
  • after Johnny learned that Kathie was the police chief's daughter (and he had told her: "I don't like cops"), he was ready to leave town, but was halted by the arrival of a group of rival cyclists led by crazy, vulgar biker Chino (Lee Marvin) in a striped shirt with aviator goggles and a stogie - a former member of Johnny's gang who broke away and begrudgingly formed his own rival group (the Beetles); Chino taunted his ex-leader by stealing the trophy off Johnny's bike (and putting it on his own bike's handlebars) and issuing crude insults about Johnny's new 'girlfriend'; the two started a vicious and savage fist-fight that ended with Chino's arrest and jailing
Rival Gang Leader Chino (Lee Marvin)
  • the police chief requested a favor from Johnny - to leave town ("You take your boys and go on, and that other bunch too..."), but Johnny refused to deal and remained in town, due to the ambivalence of Bleeker who showed partiality by singling out Chino, and for not arresting Charlie Thomas (Hugh Sanders) who had foolishly driven his car into the crowd and injured a biker in Chino's gang
  • when night came, further tension mounted as Chino's gang hovered outside the Police Department's jail, and Johnny's cyclists caroused within Bleeker's Cafe; both gangs threatened to take over the operations of the town and even members of Johnny's gang suggested 'springing' Chino from jail because of the "phony cop"; Chino's gang members terrorized the town's switchboard operator Dorothy (Eve March) and cut off telephone line connections at the main switchboard
  • meanwhile, Johnny's gang - to administer proper justice - rode to the house of Charlie Thomas, apprehended him, and then dragged him to the police department jail to share the cell with the drunken Chino; Johnny was approached by his tight-sweatered ex-girlfriend Britches (Yvonne Doughty), a member of Chino's gang who was still pining for him and his attention, but he quickly abandoned her
  • shortly later, some of the townsfolk again took the law into their own hands, armed themselves, and released Charlie from the jail; after they left, Chino noticed the jail cell door left open, and also escaped
  • gang members of both groups wrecked the town, looted stores, and one group of bikers cornered Kathie ("Johnny's girl") in an alleyway after she left the cafe; Johnny intervened, heroically rescued her and drove her during a moonlit ride (she clung to him on the back of his motorcycle) to a secluded park just outside of town
Kathie Encircled by Bikers in Johnny's Gang and Then Rescued
  • after dismounting, he forcibly grabbed and brutishly kissed and hugged her. Almost passive or dazed, she hesitantly replied that she could not respond passionately: ("I can't fight back, I'm too tired"); although he claimed he wasn't interested in her: ("I wouldn't waste my time with a square like you"), however, she felt that he was oddly attracted to her but was fighting against his true feelings, and she wanted to try to understand him; she asked: "You're still fighting, aren't you? You're always fighting. Why do you hate everybody?"

Johnny: "I wouldn't waste my time with a square like you"

Stand-off Between Them

"Why do you hate everybody?"
  • Kathie also expressed her envy of him - and his lifestyle of freedom; she had often dreamed about leaving her depressing, routine, small-town lifestyle by taking off with someone she would meet and have coffee with in the cafe; she tentatively suggested: "I wish I was going someplace. I wish you were going someplace. We could go together." When Johnny didn't respond to her romantic fantasy and rejected her crazy dream, she began crying and hugged him ("Johnny, Johnny, I love you"), but he pushed her away. Then embarrassed, she ran away; one of the townsfolk Art Kleiner witnessed the incident and misunderstood, assuming that Johnny was intending to rape her
  • moments later, Johnny chased and caught up to her on his bike and she slapped him; he was now intrigued, attracted and aroused by her freshness and innocence; however, she broke free and fled again a second time, crying; then Kathie watched as Johnny was attacked on his cycle by a vigilante mob of townspeople; she rushed to the office of her father to alert him
  • meanwhile, Johnny was dragged into a building where he was pinned down while being viciously beaten up - the townsfolk were far more violent than anything the gangs had done in the small town; they were punishing him for representing unorthodox freedom; the police chief finally found the courage to confront the mob and take Johnny into his protective custody
  • Johnny was able to wriggle free and raced to his motorcycle; he attempted to leave town, but someone tossed a tire iron at his moving bike's wheel spokes; he was thrown free of his bike that plunged out of control and inadvertently struck and killed an elderly bystander in the crowd - the cafe's helper Jimmy; the arrival of county Sheriff Singer and other police cars restored order to town
  • at a subsequent hearing before the Sheriff on possible manslaughter charges, Johnny protested his innocence, while Kathie also defended Johnny, explaining that it wasn't Johnny's fault; she also vigorously defended Johnny from further accusations of rape in the park; although Johnny was lectured by the Sheriff, he was ordered to be set free, but he would never be allowed to enter the town again with his gang of bikers
  • in the final scene in Wrightsville, Johnny intended to say goodbye to Kathie by himself in Bleeker's Cafe, but he could not find the words to speak; at the door, he paused, walked back in, and then with a vague smile, he pushed the stolen motorcycle trophy down the length of the counter toward her; it was a symbol of his emotional breakthrough and a gift to the understanding Kathie who had redeemed him; and then he was gone, leaving the deserted town on his bike

The Approach of a Motorcycle Gang - The Black Rebels

Anti-Hero Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando)

Insignia of BRMC (Black Rebels Motorcycle Club)

Johnny with Gang Disrupting Race in Carbonville

Johnny - Defiant Symbol of Rebellion

The Stolen Trophy Mounted on Johnny's Bike

Bleeker's Cafe-Bar: Locale of Many of the Film's Scenes

Fresh-Faced, Youthful Kathie Bleeker

Johnny: "We just gonna go!"

Mildred: "Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"

Johnny: "Whaddya got?"

Johnny: "I don't like cops!"

Fight on the Street Between Chino and Johnny

Johnny with Ex-Girlfriend Britches

Moonlight Ride with Kathie on Johnny's Bike

A Forceful Kiss and Hug

Kathie: "I Wish I Was Going Someplace...We Could Go Together"

Johnny Rejected Her and Pushed Her Away

Johnny Chased After Her on His Bike and She Slapped Him Before Running Off a Second Time

Kathie Begging Her Father to Save Johnny From a Severe Beating

Effects of the Beating on Johnny

The Sheriff's Lecture to Johnny


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