Jim Stark is the new kid in town. He has been in trouble elsewhere; that's why his family has had to move before. Here he hopes to find the love he doesn't get from his middle-class family. Though he finds some of this in his relation with Judy, and a form of it in both Plato's adulation and Ray's real concern for him, Jim must still prove himself to his peers in switchblade knife fights and "chickie" games in which cars race toward a seaside cliff. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
"East of Eden" and "Giant" are both great, don't get me wrong. But this is the James Dean that set the archetype for not only the cool Fifties American teenager but perhaps every teenager since. Dean has his white t-shirt, sleeve rolled up for his smokes. He has his red jacket and blue jeans, he's ready to drag and he's ready to fight. From the first moment we see Dean, drunk on a school night, busted by the cops, he's amazingly both personally secretive and universally accessible at once. He's hurt, lonely and looking for kicks - and no one understands him except, maybe, just maybe, that one person in the audience...
Sure, this movie has it's faults. The parents are cartoonish, some of the kids are hip in only a stilted sense and a lot of the movie is unrealistic. There's something disturbingly hokey and amateurish in this portrayal of a typical American town with it's typical American high school. Yet, Dean, Mineo and Wood put on performances that let the viewer suspend reality all the way through..each of these three put on the performance of their lives!
Sal Mineo plays a mousey misfit named Plato (whose homosexuality is thinly veiled). Natalie Wood plays a young women named Judy, part of the in-crowd, who deep down is at wit's end. Both of these characters are amazingly believable, even fifty years later. Mineo's never been as enigmatic or as compelling as he is here as Plato. Then there's Wood - as cynical and alone in her world as Judy feels, we realize quickly she likes James Dean, she needs James Dean - and Dean can dig her.
In retrospect, it's not surprising that the jacketed juvenile delinquent that Dean plays here would become a role model for both young gay men and young straight men alike. He's comfortable being intimate with Plato, his words, his expressions are all too much, too overly emotional (for a straight man). But, the kids, the town itself, quickly learn Dean's no pushover. He yells, he fights and he's afraid of nothing that other people are afraid of - staring down death is just a way for him to kill time. But, he's afraid, something just isn't right with his life. And most importantly, even if he never really does connect with this "typical town" filled with "typical people", Dean does indeed connect - to anyone whose ever been young - and alone.....
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