In the final scene where the camera pulls away from the observatory, director Nicholas Ray is the person walking toward the building. (possible director's trademark for it is rumored he appeared in all of his movies)
Originally in the beginning of the movie, there was a gang beating up a father, who drops a toy on the sidewalk. The studio thought it was too violent, so it was cut. Jim Stark can be seen playing with the toy after he finds it on the ground during the opening credits
Natalie Wood was first considered too naive and wholesome for the role of Judy. She began changing her looks and eventually attracted the notice of director Nicholas Ray, who began an affair with her but still would not guarantee her the part, though he eventually relented. Both Ray and Wood later claimed that he changed his mind after she was in a car accident with Dennis Hopper and someone in the hospital called her a "goddamn juvenile delinquent".
Jim Stark was actually first intended to be more of a nerd, wearing a brown jacket and glasses. However, when Warner Bros. told director Nicholas Ray to re-shoot in color, Ray, as well as costumer Moss Mabry, wanted him to wear red.
The empty pool in which the characters sit and discuss their lives first appeared in Sunset Blvd.. The pool had been built specially for the earlier film, as a condition of renting the site from its owner, Mrs J. Paul Getty.
Margaret O'Brien tested for the role of Judy but was rejected by Nicholas Ray after he described her answers to his probing questions as "too pat". Jayne Mansfield also tested but Ray declined to film her audition, considering her 'an hallucination' from the Warners casting department.
All three lead actors, James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, died young under tragic circumstances: Dean died in a car accident, Mineo was stabbed, and Wood drowned. In addition, Edward Platt committed suicide in 1974.
The opening scene in the movie with Jim Stark and the toy monkey was improvised by James Dean after the production had been shooting for nearly 24 hours straight. He asked Nicholas Ray to roll the camera, that he wanted to do something. Ray obliged and the improvisation went on to become the famous opening scene.
In his article "Dangerous Talents," published in Vanity Fair Magazine in March 2005, Sam Kashner writes that director Nicholas Ray, screenwriter Stewart Stern, costar James Dean, and Sal Mineo himself all intended for Mineo's character Plato to be subtly but definitely understood as gay. Kashner says that although the Production Code was still very much in force and forbade any mention of homosexuality, Ray, Dean, Mineo, and Stern all worked together to insert restrained references to Plato's homosexuality and attraction to Jim, including the pinup photo of Alan Ladd on Plato's locker door, Plato's adoring looks at Jim, his loaded talk with Jim in the old mansion, and even the name "Plato," which is a reference to the Classical Greek philosopher. For that mansion scene, Dean suggested to Mineo that Plato should "look at me the way I look at Natalie."
The living room of the Stark's house was based on Nicholas Ray's bungalow (he did something similar for In a Lonely Place). James Dean and other cast members would rehearse there, and Dean felt most comfortable there. It was Dean's idea for Jim to be placed between his parents during the climactic fight scene, to reflect his inner turmoil.
The movie was originally to be shot in black and white, and some scenes had already been filmed that way, when the studio decided to switch to color. The official explanation at the time was that Twentieth Century-Fox, which owned the wide-screen CinemaScope process, had ordered that all films shot in the process had to be in color, but some also believe that Warners ordered the switch to head off comparisons with Blackboard Jungle and because James Dean's increasing popularity gave the film more prestige.
Originally based on a non-fiction work by Dr. Robert M. Lindner, about the hypno-analysis of a young criminal. Producer Jerry Wald intended to make a film of the work and commissioned several scripts, including one by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), and Marlon Brando was set to star at one point, but the project was eventually shelved. When the studio bought Nicholas Ray's treatment "The Blind Run" it asked him to use the title of Lindner's work, but the film doesn't include anything else from the book.
The "chickie run" was staged at a Warner Bros. property in Calabasas, California. The cars drove on flat land that led to a small bluff of only 10 -15 feet high. The cars drove over the small bluff, but the "cliff" supposedly overlooking the ocean was built on Stage 7 (now Stage 16) at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. The constructed cliff overlooked the stage's flooded water tank and the actors looked down upon the water from the edge. Even so, it became necessary to matte in shots of the Pacific Ocean in the final product.
Frank Mazzola, who plays "Crunch" in the film, was an actual street gang member when he was a student at Hollywood High School. He was a member of a gang called "The Athenians." As such, he served as a technical advisor to Director Nicholas Ray and coached other actors in regard to street gang attitudes and mannerisms.
When the scenes were shot for the chickie run aftermath when the teenagers ran to the edge of the cliff to look down; they witnessed what looked like the sun rising and exploding. Steffi Sidney, who played Mil, would later comment that it looked like an atomic bomb went off, and it was. What they witnessed was "Zucchini", the 14th and final thermonuclear bomb (weighing 28 kilotons) launched for Operation Teapot.
In 2010, a 'New York Times' article about Nicholas Ray's widow Susan said she had in her archives an original, unused treatment for "Rebel" in which the ending was very different: Plato was going to shoot Jim and then blow himself up with a grenade. But another Times report in 2011, says the archive contains a Ray storyboard which shows it's Plato himself who is shot from the top of the planetarium. (A treatment is a preliminary synopsis of the story for a proposed movie that either gets written before the script is started [as in this case] or afterward so that executives at a potential producer's or investor's company won't have to read the whole script.)
The writing credits for the film are as follows: Stewart Stern (screenplay), Nicholas Ray (story) and Irving Shulman (adaptation). In an interview, published in Michigan Quarterly Review in 1999, Stern, however, claims that he had never even seen "The Blind Run", the treatment for "Rebel" supposedly written by Ray. The screenwriter says he was shocked when he learned that the director wanted to take the sole story credit as there had not been an actual story before he started writing the script. Stern admits that both Ray and Shulman had contributed to the story therefore he believes that the credit should have been divided between the three of them. Later, the film received an Oscar nomination for the story alone with only Ray being nominated for writing.