Rebel without a Cause Poster
From Internet Movie Poster Awards

“Rebel without a Cause” is about teenage angst, dangerous car races, fight scenes, teenage romance. It doesn’t sound much different then today. This well made movie was brought to audiences everywhere in 1955. The movie centers on Jim Stark (James Dean) as a troubled youth who moves with his family to a new city. There he gets in trouble immediately. He then gets swept up with the wrong crowd, and a lonely rich kid named Plato (Sal Mineo). He meets Judy who’s got problems of her own. They then form their only little misfit circle. Judy and Jim also find romance with twists and turns, action and romance.
Unfortunately most teenagers today have never even heard of it or James Dean. This movie makes depression ok. Most people today think depression is some mental illness that normal people do not have but most people are depressed except they don’t ever express it because they are afraid to express it. Rebel without a cause makes it ok for teenagers to say that they are depressed and confused in life and they should be at that age. As human beings we don’t always have to be happy all the time and have fake smiles on our faces. It’s ok to feel depressed even when your life is almost perfect like Jim Stark’s life is. He has a mom, dad, money, food but he was just depressed. Jim and Plato are outsiders and this movie almost makes it cool to be outsiders.
(Holden Caulfield at adorability.wordpress.com)
“Rebel without a Cause” is the story of a troubled new kid in town caught in an escalating spiral of violence. Its New York premiere took place on Oct. 26, 1955, not quite a month after Dean’s fatal car crash. Over its half-century career, the film’s meaning and its place in cultural history have been much debated. Thrilled by the film’s romanticism, many viewers have taken ”Rebel’s apotheosis of the teenager as a call to arms against middle-class conformism. This same romanticism puts others off: Elia Kazan, who directed ”East of Eden,” repudiated Dean and the troubled characters he played as ”self-pitying, self-dramatizing, and good-for-nothing.”
Still others have questioned the film’s reputation as an attack on middle-class values. For critic Peter Biskind, ”Rebel” is one of the films with which ”Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the Fifties” (in the words of the subtitle of Biskind’s 1983 book, ”Seeing Is Believing”). Biskind reads ”Rebel’s message as a profoundly conformist one: That Jim Stark’s problems would be solved if his too-weak dad and his too-strong mom would assume their traditional gender roles.
Many have found in ”Rebel” a harbinger of social and even political change. The film’s most famous line is spoken by Buzz (Corey Allen), Jim’s doomed nemesis, as the two prepare to compete in a high-speed ”chickie run” to the edge of a cliff: ”You got to do something.” That line was ”the sociological gift this picture made to the hippies,” as Allen himself glossed it years later. ”It’s the underlying question of each generation. Here we are: What do we do?”
(Excerpts from The Rebel by Chris Fujiwara, October 30, 2005 at Globe Newspaper Company)
Seen today, the film is neither a pure paean to youth’s unbridled self-expression nor a conservative tract on the need to shore up the patriarchal nuclear family. Instead, it’s a film in which the urge to rebel and the longing to conform coexist in a state of peak tension. It’s the same contradiction that lies behind the mixed messages of a mass-media culture that extols bedimmed ”rebels” while urging them to grow up faster than ever and prodding them to align themselves with well-established ”causes.” ”Rebel” refuses to resolve that contradiction, and the film is the more resonant for that refusal today.
(Excerpts from The Rebel by Chris Fujiwara, October 30, 2005 at Globe Newspaper Company)
“Rebel without a Cause” is often considered a movie of symbols, all of them keyed to our feelings, and memories of youth as well as to our never-resolved disappointments: James Dean stands for youthful rebellion; Natalie Wood for the seemingly disparate appetites for wildness and tenderness; and Sal Mineo for the unpredictability, and the danger, of sexual desire. Sometimes it’s easier, to grapple with what characters mean than with what they do.
But reducing “Rebel without a Cause” to symbols only undermines its enduring vitality. It is really a movie of gestures, as Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel grasp in their lively and intelligent Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making “Rebel without a Cause.”
When James Dean’s Jim Stark returns home, exhausted and troubled, from a game of chicken that has killed one of his classmates, the first thing he does is go to the refrigerator for a drink of milk. He holds the bottle to his forehead, then to his cheek, a movement so smooth and simple you almost miss how elemental it is. Frascella and Weisel trace this small moment to an improvisatory session between Ray and Dean, in which Ray challenged the young actor to find a way to cut to the scene’s essence. “It was a startling yet entirely natural move,” Frascella and Weisel write. “It possessed an electric charge that carried directly into the film, where it would read as completely true to the sensibility of the milk-fed American teen, caught between maturity and childhood.”
(Book review Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, New York Times Book Review, January 8, 2006 by Stephanie Zacharek)

“You’re tearing me apart!
You say one thing, he says another
and everybody changes back again!”
From Dr Macro’s High Movie Scans

Jim Stark lays face down on a sidewalk dressed in a suit and tie, playing with a toy monkey when he’s picked up by the cops. Taken to the Juvenile Division, Jim meets two other teens in trouble. Judy – Natalie Wood, in her first adult role – had a fight with her father and ran away, while the neurotic Plato (Sal Mineo) apparently shot some puppies.
Jim’s parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran) arrive. Dad is a good natured fop bullied by Jim’s mother, who has moved the family from one place to another – she says – to protect Jim. The anguished delinquent can no longer take their incessant bickering and cries out, “You’re tearing me apart! You say one thing, he says another, and everybody changes back again!”
Setting out for his first day of school, Jim spots Judy and offers to give her a ride. She gives him a sharp rebuke and jumps in with a carload of kids, including Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen). At a field trip to Griffith Observatory, Buzz and the rest of his suburban gang taunt Jim by calling him a chicken. A non-lethal switchblade fight ensues, during which Jim gets the best of his tormentor. Buzz challenges him to a “chickie run” that night.

The iconic Baracuta jacket

Wearing the iconic white T-shirt, jeans and bright red windbreaker, Jim arrived in a remote coastal area where all the kids have gathered in their hot rods. Jim and Buzz set to race two cars toward the edge of a cliff dangling over the Pacific. Whoever jumps out first is crowned the chicken. Jim leaps out in time, but Buzz gets trapped and flies over the cliff to a spectacular death.
Jim confesses his role in the accident to his parents and intends to turn himself in – to tell the truth – but his parents stop him. Jim goes to the Juvenile Division anyway, but can’t get anyone to pay attention to him there either. Three delinquents – including a young Dennis Hopper – spot Jim and convince themselves he’s ratted them out. Jim escapes into the night with Judy and Plato, while the goons search for them.

Nicholas Ray with James Dean and Natalie Wood
Images from Dr Macro’s High Movie Scans

Directed by Nicholas Ray and written by Ray and Stewart Stern and Irving Schulman, the story was based on a series of pulp vignettes Ray had come up with under the title “The Blind Run”. Warner Brothers had been developing a film based on a case study printed in 1944 about a teenage psychopath called “Rebel without a Cause”. The two projects folded into one.
The movie feels big, and comes through with an eccentric leading performance by James Dean. His little tics and gestures – like howling along to a police siren – are just great. Juvenile Delinquency, and “What to Do When Your Teen Starts Acting Badly” were major stories in the media at the time, and the opening scenes in the Juvie Station promised a kind of over-the-top, pulp deviance that we loved.
For a movie called “Rebel without a Cause”, the film’s approach devoted much attention to carefully underscoring the “causes for rebellion” in the three main adolescent characters. These being adolescents from middle class suburbia, the existence of teenage rebellion must have seemed like a much more perplexing and indeed troubling phenomenon for parents and society in general in the 1950s. This being an era of unsurpassed peace and prosperity in America, the most obvious culprits are obviously not to blame (poverty, disenfranchisement, war, social upheaval . . .). How could such “nice, normal” middle class kids get involved so quickly in socially maladjusted hooliganism and destructive violence?
It seems that in answering these questions, Nicholas Ray goes in a couple of directions. There is the inward exploration through psychological analysis of people and events and there is the upward exploration of the overarching metanarrative.
For ‘Plato’, played by Sal Mineo, the blatant neglect and emotional aloofness of his divorced parents emerges as the reason for his disconnect from normal society and ultimately from reality as he descends into fear and paranoia. Plato just wants to belong. He attaches himself to Jim as a friend and a kind of a father figure.
(Catherine Savard at midnightoil.squarespace.com)
Judy (Natalie Wood) uses her budding sexuality to create meaning and a sense of belonging for herself. Scenes where her father rebuffs her affectionate kisses (“You’re too old for that kind of thing now!” her dad barks) are supposed to “explain” Judy’s involvement in the gang. Since Judy has problems finding validation and acceptance, including acceptance of her emerging sexuality, at home, she finds it elsewhere. She becomes the gang leader’s girlfriend. Later, she experiences “real love” for the first time by belonging to fellow outsider, Jim Stark.
(Catherine Savard at midnightoil.squarespace.com)
Jim Stark as realized by Jimmy Dean is a young man who has problems communicating with his parents, people who obviously have problems of their own. Jim uses alcohol to try to cope with his inward confusion and turmoil. His parents use social mobility (moving from town to town) to try to cover up and cope with their son’s problems. Jim’s desperate attempts to try to talk to his parents end in frustration. Jim gives up, blockaded by his mom’s evasion of the truth and steadfast commitment to superficiality and appearances. He finds it impossible to connect with a father who wears an apron and refuses to “stand up” to his wife’s henpecking. Even though they are trying to be good parents, Jim doesn’t find what he needs at home.
(Catherine Savard at midnightoil.squarespace.com)
In “Rebel without a Cause”, fights between parents and children erupt suddenly, but combat among the kids is as ritualized as in any Western. When Buzz eventually punctures Jim’s whitewall tire with a switchblade, Jim inhales deeply in the final reaction shot. It’s now a matter of honor, as the young hero will later try to explain to his father (Jim Backus), and he must defend himself in order to retain his self-respect. Ray understands that. (Perhaps too well—some of his contemporaries accused him of valorizing neurotic adolescents.) His shots of Jim on the observatory balcony communicate the immensity of these emotions for the participants, who haven’t yet learned how to shrug off feeling that the world is arrayed against them.
For those who live to age (Dean himself was dead before Warner Bros. released this picture), there will be time enough to acclimate themselves to cosmic insignificance. For now, each of these teens feels alone in the universe—but also that the world is alive inside him or her, and they can’t imagine a future when they might think or behave differently. Ray films them, in this scene particularly, with the knowledge that such confounding passion is as frightening as it is grand.
(Michael Healey at michaelhealey.blogspot.com)
When you’re a teenager, everything feels like a matter of life or death. “Rebel without a Cause” taps into that emotional state, treating its star triumvirate of 1950s California kids as the confused saints they imagine themselves to be. A class trip to a planetarium ends with Jim, Judy, Plato, and many of their classmates awed, even frightened, by the roiling elements of creation and the possibility of Earth’s destruction. Little else possesses sufficient magnitude to eclipse their hormones and emotional uproar.
After the show, new kid Jim slips out a side door to dodge a confrontation with the leather-jacketed bully Buzz, Judy’s boyfriend. Buzz and his gang find Jim easily; he isn’t hiding but rather just trying to stay out of trouble. (His family moved to this town after Jim badly beat a boy in his last school for calling him “chicken.”) The gang crowds threateningly around Jim’s car while he and Plato watch from a balcony above.
(Michael Healey at michaelhealey.blogspot.com)

James Dean and Sal Mineo
(Jim Stark and Plato)
From Dr Macro’s High Movie Scans

Ray cuts to a profile shot of Dean in medium close-up five times during this short, effectively wordless scene, the prelude to the movie’s famous knife fight. The star is positioned at the center of the Cinemascope frame, seated on a ledge with the Griffith Observatory’s upper floors behind him. However, the rightward direction of his face, his slightly hunched posture, and the contrast between bright space at his back and afternoon shadows before him all create the impression that he’s being pushed toward the frame’s edge, just as he’s being pulled into a showdown he wishes he knew how to avoid.
(Michael Healey at michaelhealey.blogspot.com)
“Rebel without a Cause” developed the reputation as being the first film to tackle problems of middle-class youth, but when it opened, the impact of its violence and sexuality shocked some reviewers into mixed, albeit strong, criticism. Some reviews found the development of the parental characters weak or unfair. The film marked Wood’s first adult role, and one for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, losing to Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden. Mineo, whose role is considered by critics the first instance of a homosexual boy on film, was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, but lost to Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts. Ray was nominated for Best Motion Picture Story, but lost to Daniel Fuchs’s Love Me or Leave Me. In 1997, “Rebel without a Cause” was rated fifty-nine in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list of the greatest American films.
(American Film Institute Catalog at doctormacro1.info)


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