“You’re tearing me apart! You say one thing, he says another, and everybody changes back again!”
Disaffected teen Jim Stark (James Dean) moves to a new town and hopes to befriend his pretty neighbor, Judy (Natalie Wood), who hangs out with a group of toughs (led by Corey Allen). When a “chicky run” contest between Jim and Buzz (Allen) results in Buzz’s tragic death, Dean runs away with Judy and a troubled boy named Plato (Sal Mineo), who looks up to him as a father figure.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Dennis Hopper Films
- Family Problems
- Generation Gap
- James Dean Films
- Juvenile Deliquents
- Natalie Wood Films
- Nicholas Ray Films
- Sal Mineo Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “great, emotionally charged youth film” (directed by Nicholas Ray) remains an enduring cult favorite, in large part because “generations of young men [and women] have identified with the misunderstood Jim Stark.” Method actor James Dean — who made only three films before his tragic death in a car accident at the age of 24 — plays a “vulnerable, self-destructive character [who] fits his off-screen image”; indeed, he perfectly captures the edginess of alienated teens everywhere who long for acceptance and love. Equally impressive are both Natalie Wood (a former child star who “aged” beautifully into teenagehood) as a guarded young “hood” who gradually reveals her vulnerability to Dean, and Sal Mineo as Jim’s tragic young protege “Plato”, whose intense desire for a father figure (and latent homosexual longings) cause him to latch onto Jim with unwise desperation. Other supporting actors throughout the film are fine as well; I’m particularly fond of Jim Backus (Thurston Howell on “Gilligan’s Island”) as Dean’s “emasculated” father, who clearly wants the best for his son but simply doesn’t understand what Jim needs (surely many parents of teens can relate to this dilemma!).
Several critics (see DVD Savant’s review, for instance) have pointed out that Rebel‘s screenplay is undeniably dated, with its abundant Freudian overtones — all troubles ultimately rest on the follies of inadequate parental figures — coming across as terribly heavy-handed. With that said, I believe the film’s melodramatic structure and tone ultimately work in its favor: the spiraling series of events depicted in the film (Jim’s “arrest”, his first day at a new high school, the fatal chicky run, and the climactic shoot-out) all take place within one 24-hour period, and are meant to demonstrate the fact that teenage angst not only feels all-consuming, but can quickly lead to unexpectedly grave consequences. While Rebel Without a Cause is undeniably a downer (those final scenes are tough to watch), its status as a culturally iconic movie makes it must-see viewing for all film fanatics; and — thanks to Dean’s charismatic presence — it will likely continue to endure as a cult favorite.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- James Dean as Jim Stark
- Natalie Wood as Judy
- Sal Mineo as Plato
- Jim Backus as Jim’s well-meaning but “emasculated” father
- The infamous “chicky run” scene
- Good use of Los Angeles locales, such as the Griffith Observatory
- Effective use of symbolic colors (particularly red)
Yes. This undisputed classic of ’50s cinema should be seen at least once by every film fanatic. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).
- Cult Movie
- Genuine Classic
- Important Director
- Noteworthy Performance(s)
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)