Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, outlaw motorcycle club leader
Central California, Summer 1953
Film: The Wild One
Release Date: December 30, 1953
Director: László Benedek
“Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”
This famous exchange originated among the actual biker gangs that producer Stanley Kramer had brought on set to play themselves. When Kramer asked what it was they were “rebelling” against, a member cracked back to him, “Well, whaddaya got?” The line so encapsulated the culture and attitude of bikers during the era that it was incorporated into The Wild One, though the question is posed by Mildred, the platinum blonde beauty salon operator that one of Johnny’s boys picked up in a bar.
Inspired by actual events over a rambunctious fourth of July weekend in Hollister, California, in 1947, The Wild One was based on Frank Rooney’s short story “The Cyclists’ Raid” that appeared in Harper’s magazine in January 1951. It was swiftly adapted for the screen, though the locations involved were changed to the fictional California burgs of Carbondale and Wrightsville, the latter being the “screwball town”—according to Dextro (Jerry Paris)—where most of the action takes place.
The credits are a bit misleading, introducing Marlon Brando to us as The Wild One, though his character Johnny Strabler turns out to be the most restrained of his hell-raising confederates, particularly when compared to the obnoxious pipsqueak Mouse (Gil Stratton), the larcenous, simple-minded Pigeon (Alvy Moore), or rival gang leader Chino (Lee Marvin). Continue reading
James Dean as Jim Stark, confused suburban high school student and loner
Los Angeles, Spring 1956
Film: Rebel Without a Cause
Release Date: October 27, 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Costume Designer: Moss Mabry
Sixty years ago today – September 30, 1955 – was the famous fatal car crash that ended James Dean’s life at the age of 24. At the time of his death, he had only completed acting in three films (other than uncredited bit parts), but those performances made more of an impact than anyone could have guessed.
After his breakout role in East of Eden in 1955, Dean quickly followed it up with his performance as the troubled and tortured Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, a representation of teenage angst that gave a glimmer of hope to millions of teens throughout the country who were disgusted by the falsely naive and puritanical state of 1950s society. Teens could actually relate to the frustrated Jim Stark rather than the squeaky clean Andy Hardy or mischievous doe-eyed Beaver Cleaver. Dean’s electric performance captivated young audiences that began copying his style. Continue reading