The Leather Boys (1964) - Moto Movie Review
If you are looking for images of period-correct bikes and rockers at the Ace Cafe, then you will enjoy The Leather Boys. If you are looking for a coming-of-age story about a man coming to grips with his sexual identity, this is also that movie. Or you can just ignore that part and enjoy the bikes.
There are few feature films out there set in the world of mods and rockers in post-war England, and this is one of the better ones if you are into bikes. At the time the film was actually quite controversial, too, for having a gay male central character. Watching it now the controversial parts are so subtle and have become so normal, it could be an afterschool special aimed at tweens.
Reggie (Colin Campbell) is a young man with a motorcycle, the UK equivalent of a high school diploma and no plans for the future, save one. Dot (Rita Tushingham) is a young girl still in school, with dreams of getting out and getting married. Marrying Dot is all Reggie has planned, except maybe for some burn-ups with his mates at the Ace Cafe. They do marry, but begin to get on each other's nerves almost immediately, and things are made worse when Reggie's grandfather dies and he wants to move in with his grandmother to take care of her. Pete (Dudley Sutton), is one of Reggie's motorcycling buddies looking for a room to rent, and when Reggie and Dot separate, Pete and Reggie end up sharing a room at Reggie's granny's place.
This is one of those love triangles where everyone knows what is going on except Reggie, who is completely oblivious. The whole gang of bikers knows, or suspect what Pete is up to. Dot most definitely knows what is up. Pete just seems to be playing the long game, waiting for Reggie to get over this hetero phase he is going through. In the end, things conclude in the normal pre-sexual-revolution happy ending, but in a sign that things are changing the gay character does not get beat up, or killed, or even shunned.
But enough about that stuff, let's talk about the bikes! Reggie has a Triumph Speed Twin, of the era with the one piece rear "bathtub" fender and side panels. After losing a race (a cafe race?) to Pete he trades it in for a hotted up Bonneville. Pete has a Norton Dominator, the natural enemy of the Speed Twin. The scene where they race through the streets of London is fairly accurate and more exciting that you would think for bikes making about 30hp. Later the whole club gets together for a long-distance endurance race to Edinburgh and back, and you briefly see nearly every post war, British bike that was around at the time.
READ MORE: Cafe Racers: The Early Years | RideApart
Rotten Tomato Rating: None, but the audience score is 74 percent and IMDB rates it 7.3 out of 10.
RideApart Worth Watching: I'm not going to say this is a 10, but certainly a 9 for the motorcycle content and period reference material. This is realistic, too; there are no infinite Bullitt upshifts, or Fast and the Furious idiocy.
Not sure if he is much of a biker, but Morrissey is a big fan of The Leather Boys, and has used stills from it as album art. The video for Girlfriend in a Coma is basically cut together from footage from the movie, though not the good parts. I always thought of him as more of a mod than a rocker.
This film is a cult classic, among several different subcultures, and is widely available to stream, though not in HD, and hard copies are out of print. You can watch the best YouTube version of it right here:
Thanks to Edward Peters for the tip on this one. I'm always looking for new movies, books and other motorcycle pop culture to consume, so drop us a line if you have a suggestion.