While not Brando's first film, it was one of the first to play off of his counterculture image; his portrayal of alienated biker gang leader Johnny Strabler was one of the iconic touchstones of Fifties youth culture, and has been referenced, homaged, and parodied many times in the decades since. The story involves Strabler and company riding into a quiet town of "squares", causing tension between the locals, and tangling with a rival biker gang headed by Chino (Lee Marvin).
This film was banned in the UK until 1968. It was also remade as Cool as Ice.
- Abuse Mistake: One of the townspeople mistakenly assumes Johnny has assaulted Kathie, leading to a vigilante mob catching and beating him.
- Gay Bravado: Chino makes some comments ("Johnny, I love ya!") that could be interpreted as this.
- Large Ham: Chino, especially when compared to the relatively stoic Johnny. Apparently, this was in part due to Method Acting; Lee Marvin was actually drunk on the set for scenes where his character was (pretty much all of them).
- Menace Decay: From a modern point of view, Johnny's gang might come off as less "scary outlaw bikers" and more "typical obnoxious teenagers".
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: This is one of those movies where you're more likely to see a parody before the real thing.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Chief Bleeker doesn't want to charge the bikers for a simple accident. In fact all of the police officers in the film seem reasonable, looking for a peaceful solution and trying to get the gang to leave rather than cause any riots.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The story is loosely based off of the events of the 1947 Hollister Riot.
- Shout-Out: Mutt Williams in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a reference to Johnny in looks, not so much in attitude.
- Teens Are Monsters: Though near the end the adults are shown not to be much better, and far more hypocritical.
- Totally Radical: The bikers totally fit in this trope. One of the best example would be this "Dig the Rebop?" scene.
- Uptight Loves Wild: There is some mutual affection between the Wild Johnny and the Uptight Kathie.
- When He Smiles: At the end when Johnny gives Katie his stolen trophy they both give each other their first genuine smiles, and they both look adorable.