Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause'
'Rebel Without a Cause' is a dramatic film made in 1955, directed by Nicholas Ray, and starring James Dean 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 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. 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.
'Rebel' remains by far the best 1950's film dealing with the then new phenomenon of teenage delinquency. It is also a key work from Nicholas Ray, an enormously talented and distinctive director who, sadly, remains as underrated now as he was when he worked in Hollywood.
James Dean's Jim Stark feels let down by his family, his teachers, the cops, and most of his peers. Together with other teenage outcasts, Judy (Natalie Woood) and Plato (Sal Mineo), he tries to establish his own alternative family, one based on mutual understanding and united by idealistic notions of "sincerity". They move into a derelict and isolated mansion in the Los Angeles hills, where the film’s dramatic climax occurs.
Ray's response to the question of how to depict his young dreamers' romantic idealism is admirably and exhilaratingly physical. The film was originally slated for black-and-white, but Ray persuaded Warners to let him shoot in color. The often luridly expressionist hues and Ray's tpically fraught CinemaScope compositions evoke the feverish nature of adolescent experience.
Similarly, Ray uses architecture and setting, particularly the difference between public and private space, to heighten our understanding of the characters' emotions. The darkness inside a planetarium becomes a space to indulge in private jokes, refuge and reverie, even contemplation of the individual's place in the cosmos. The terrace outside is later transformed by a lofty camera position into a sunlit arena where a bullfight-like knife fight is played out with appropriately histrionic gestures. Ray understands how, especially when young, we view our lives as drama. His immaculate sense of color, composition, cutting, lighting and performance enhances the importance of the action.
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 physicalitly expresses the tormented vitality within. It is sad 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.
Main CastJames 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
CreditsDirector ... 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 AwardsNo Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor ... Sal Mineo
Best Supporting Actress ... Natalie Wood
Best Writing, (Motion Picture Story) ... Nicholas Ray