Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Sal Mineo, James Dean and Natalie Wood
Sal Mineo, James Dean and Natalie Wood

'Rebel Without a Cause' is a dramatic film made in 1955, directed by Nicholas Ray, and starring James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood. The movie was an immediate hit when it was released in October 1955, less than 1 month after James Dean's death in an car crash. It is regarded as a landmark film and is ranked at number 59 in the American film Institute's list of 100 Best Movies. In 1990 it was added to the American National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film received three Academy Awards nominations, all unsuccessful: Best Supporting Actor for Sal Mineo, Best Supporting Actress for Natalie Wood, and Best Motion Picture Story for director Nicholas Ray.

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The movie's title comes from the 1944 book of the same name by psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner although the content of the book and the film are completely different. Director Nicholas Ray wrote a new storyline for which he was nominated, unsuccessfully, for an Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story.

The movie has come to be regarded as a classic and it helped to establish the reputation of its young stars. James Dean was already famous for his performance in 'East of Eden' in 1955 and 'Rebel' reaffirmed his "rebellious teenager" image. His very brief but successful career and violent death in a high speed car crash transformed him into a cult figure. He gave a touching and exciting portrayal of the misunderstood teenager and his performance is complemented by the sensitive acting of co-stars Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively.

The audience's view of Dean's Jim is like seeing a character being born, and growing before our eyes. That is fitting for Rebel's subject matter, but it also complements Ray's direction in terms of how its acute physicality expresses the tormented vitality within.

'Rebel' is one of the best films of the 1950's dealing with the new and growing problem of teenage delinquency. It is our loss that the projects Ray and Dean planned to work on together never came to fruition. One great film had to suffice. And 'Rebel Without a Cause' is undoubtedly a great film.


The action of the film takes place over a twenty four hour period. James Dean's Jim Stark feels alienated from his family and many of his contemporaries at his new school. Together with other teenagers who, for different reasons, also feel like outcasts Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo), he tries to come to terms with his problems. He tries to establish an early commune, as a replacement family, and bases it on idealistic notions such as tolerance and understanding. They move into a derelict and isolated mansion in the Los Angeles hills, where the film's dramatic climax occurs.


Storyline and Screenplay
The movie was based on the book of the same name by Dr. Robert Lindner, published in 1944, and which dealt with a true case history of a young delinquent who had been treated in Pennsylvania's Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Warner Brothers could see the potential of the subject matter and bought the screen rights in 1947, originally hoping to use Marlon Brando in the Jim Stark role.

Director Nicholas Ray changed the storyline completely, originally calling it 'The Blind Run' and his authority characters treat the delinquents with great empathy, and his teenage characters have much greater complexity than Lindner's. His search for a screenwriter included writers Leon Uris and Irving Shulman but he finally settled on the then unknown Stewart Stern, who completed the script by March 1955. Stern was the nephew of Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount Pictures.

From the outset, Nicholas Ray wanted James Dean for the lead role. Dean had recently worked with Ray's mentor Elia Kazan, on 'East of Eden', and Ray knew his quality. Dean accepted the role only after 'Giant' was delayed by Elizabeth Taylor's pregnancy.

Natalie Wood had been a well known child actress, appearing in 'Miracle on 34th Street' in 1947. She was under contract to Warner Brothers but Ray tested other actresses ahead of her, including Debbie Reynolds, Margaret O'Brien and Jayne Mansfield. He thought Natalie was too clean cut and wholesome for the role, even though he, aged forty-three was having an affair with the sixteen year old Wood. He finally cast her after hearing her referred to as a "juvenile delinquent" as he collected her and Denis Hopper, with whom she was also having an affair, from a police station after a car accident.

Ray began the production filming in black-and-white, but then persuaded Warners to let him shoot in widescreen color. He deliberately uses bold, jarring colors, such as Jim Stark's red jacket, to complement the dramatic intensity of the teenage emotions on display.

Main Cast

James Dean ... Jim Stark
Natalie Wood ... Judy
Sal Mineo ... John "Plato" Crawford
Jim Backus ... Frank Stark
Ann Doran ... Mrs. Stark
Corey Allen ... Buzz Gunderson
William Hopper ... Judy's father
Rochelle Hudson ... Judy's mother
Edward Platt ... Ray Fremick
Nick Adams ... Chick
Dennis Hopper ... Goon
Virginia Brissac ... Grandma Stark
Jack Grinnage ... Moose
Beverly Long ... Helen
Steffi Sidney ... Mil
Jack Simmons ... Cookie
John Righetti ... The Big Rig

James Dean(1931-55)
In his entire career Dean had only three starring roles in the space of little over a year, and yet very quickly became, and still is, a worldwide cultural icon, the very symbol of teenage disillusion and rebellion. His performance as Jim in 'Rebel' is a tour de force and he carries the film, and himself, to greatness. He was voted at number 18 in the American Film Institute's list of Greatest Screen Legends.

Natalie Wood (1938-81)
Natalie became a well known child movie actress after her appearance in the classic 'Miracle on 34th Street' in 1947 aged eight. She easily made the transition to adult roles with her mature performance as Judy in 'Rebel' and she went on to further success with a starring role in 'West Side Story' in 1961, 'Love with a Proper Stranger' in 1963 and 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice' in 1969 before her mysterious death from drowning during on a weekend boat trip with her husband, Robert Wagner.

Sal Mineo (1939-1976)
Mineo had a successful Hollywood career, playing the same type of role as in 'Rebel' until he got too old to play a troubled teenager. He was nominated twice for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for 'Rebel' and again for his 1960 performance in Otto Preminger's 'Exodus'.

Jim Backus (1913-89)
Backus had a long Hollywood career working in movies, radio and television. His role as James Dean's weak and stuffy father in 'Rebel' is one of his best known but he also did the voice of Mr Magoo, the shortsighted cartoon character, and he was the husband of Joan Davies in the long running 'I Married Joan' television series.


Director ... Nicholas Ray
Producer ... David Weisbart
Screenplay ... Stewart Stern, Irving Shulman (adaptation)
Story ... Nicholas Ray
Music ... Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography ... Ernest Haller
Format ... Color (WarnerColor) Distribution Company ... Warner Bros.
Release date ... October 27, 1955
Running time ... 111 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor ... Sal Mineo
Best Supporting Actress ... Natalie Wood
Best Writing, (Motion Picture Story) ... Nicholas Ray