Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
299 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Well you gotta do SOMETHIN'.
Evan-2918 May 2000
I'm getting really sick of people on here saying "this film is not relevant today, because kids don't face the same problems, blah blah..." when these are ADULTS saying this, who wouldn't know the first thing about the problems kids face today because they aren't one. Well I'm 16 and I can say that this film is every bit as involving and affecting as it was the day it came out. I mean, name one thing in Rebel that isn't a part of teen life now. Drag racing: that's the only thing.

But anyway, the movie. I'm a hard-core film buff and have seem many many many many movies in my 16 years. Only two of them have accurately depicted teen life: Rebel Without a Cause and a beautiful Japanese anime film called Whisper of the Heart. Rebel on a whole is a bit exaggerated, but it's only fitting - a teen exaggerates everything that happens to them. In fact, some of the images and themes - kids and adults seem to be speaking different languages, a group of outcasts living in a secluded house - would be right at home in a Bunuel film. That house of outcasts in particular is very touching...I think all teens would want to live away from the real world once in a awhile.

The three principal characters are all like people I know. Sal Mineo as the troubled kid who wants nothing more than a friend. Natalie Wood as the girl who just goes along with what other people do because she wants to fit in. And of course, the ultra-cool James Dean as the kid who may have a rough-and-tumble exterior, but who is really a big softie at heart. Dean was a bit of a revelation to me. I'd never seen one of his movies before, so I assumed that, like Marilyn Monroe, it was the image that people grieved over and not the talent. Boy was I wrong. The guy could act. When he howls "You're tearing me apart!" at the beginning, you know what you're in store for.

The depiction of the parents also must have been a revelation for 1955 audiences. Juvenile delinquents had been (and are continuing to be) depicted as either overall bad seeds or having abusive parents. This film was the first to acknowledge that something as simple as a lack of communication and an unwillingness to pay attention to your child can do just as much damage.

Nicholas Ray's direction was also excellent. Besides coming up with the idea for Jim's red jacket to "make him stick out more" you have Plato's mismatched socks, and I was also surprised by the frequently-titled camera. I didn't know they did that back then! It certainly added more to the disjointed feeling and wasn't just there for style purposes like todays movies.

The only point at which the film falters is the pat resolution between Jim and his parents at the end. But the ending is great otherwise, with a wonderfully framed shot of the observatory, proving Jim's theory that the world will end at dawn.
164 out of 209 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Powerful
Trumpy17 April 1999
I agree with most of the reviewers. This movie is just as powerful as it was 44 years ago. Inside the cheesy braggadocio of an angry gangster is a confused kid. I can't think of a single person that did not feel alienated as a teenager. James Dean represents what every teenager would want to be. Individualistic: has a set of values and sticks to them Brave: engages in activities most of us would never consider (esp. chicky run) Kind: caring to Plato and Judy

James Dean is perfect in his role as Jim Stark. More is said in this movie through gestures than words. One lift of his eyebrow, one syllable can say so much. When he does speak, you know that he believes what he is saying. The shot of Jim rolling out of the speeding car is amazing. I can think of few modern action films that have had me riveted to the seat as I was during the switchblade fight.

Natalie Wood is superb in her role as well. Judy is looking for attention that isn't there. This is perfectly summed up when she says "I love somebody, all this time I was looking for someone to love me, but now I love somebody." She desperately looks for acceptance and acknowledgment in the wrong places because her father does not want to see her as a young woman.

Even though Dennis Hopper's role is rather small, you can see that he knows what he is doing. He portrays in my mind, someone easily pushed around when he tries to fit in. He seems different than the rest of Buzz' gang and even looks more boyish. He timidly tries to interject a comment in front of Buzz and is just brushed off.

I don't think that this movie is strictly an us versus them type of scenario. Trying to take care of Plato and to protect him, Jim realizes that being a parent is not as straightforward as he thought. His parents are more than just caricatures of the nagging wife and emasculated husband. Everyone in the film is confused about how they fit in to the big picture. The movie is simply told in the self centered manner any teenager would view it as. This can account for the sequences which many would see as over the top. I think the central theme of the cosmos presented in the planetarium show demonstrates how teenagers view themselves as the center of the universe. Thus all the scenes concerning each of the three teens conflicts are equally dramatic.
57 out of 76 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
First American Teenager
humdinger28 June 2003
"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.....
48 out of 64 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Just so far ahead of its time....
wisewebwoman7 December 2004
This film bears watching once every 5 years or so. It is astonishing on many levels, not least of which is the exploration of the underbelly of the happy suburban post-war years in middle class America.

Yes, we all rave about the beautiful and sadly short lived life of James Dean who died before this movie opened. To die also in a manner highlit in this movie - he was co-incidentally a promo for it. Fast driving and fast cars. Poor James.

What I enjoy most though in all of it is the afore-mentioned exploration of hitherto fairly underdeveloped film themes in the America of the fifties. For one, there is the underlying homosexual element to the Sal Mineo character and his obsession with James. And here James is allowed to indulge and return this love, not overtly, but it is there, the tolerance and acknowledgment of it.

The character of Judy, played by Natalie Wood is also of tremendous interest. Here there is an incestuous component in her relationship to her father. It seems to me that the father is terrified of his attraction to his gorgeous daughter and keeps pushing her away to the degree that at one point he slaps her as she tries to kiss him. She escapes from home at every chance seeking male attention from wherever she can get it.

James' parents are a little overblown and too quickly resolved at the end. But the appearance of an "emasculated" Jim Backus (he wears an apron in case we don't quite get it!) is a sight for sore eyes. A little dated in the world of today but so far ahead of its time in 1955.

9 out 10. Satisfying on many levels.
116 out of 166 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Not perfect, but still extraordinary
zetes17 July 2000
I was quite impressed with _Rebel Without a Cause_. I expected it to be quite standard, having only gathered its reputation because of the tragedy surrounding James Deans' death. Fortunately, it stood up on its own quite well. Its superficial situations are somewhat dated, which was inevitable, but its themes remain potent after many decades.

The major theme is the burgeoning relationship between adults and their teenage children. All three of the main characters are at different stages in this process. Jim (James Dean) is surprisingly at the earliest stage of this. His mother is pretty distanced and unresponsive already, but he still seems to communicate well with his father (Jim Backus, who is amazing. His character's relationship with his wife also provides an interesting view into 1950s gender politics; in one scene, Backus is wearing a cooking apron, which is very obviously meant for a woman). Judy (Natalie Wood, whom I didn't even recognize here) is almost completely rejected by her father, who feels that her affection is out of place in her teenage years. Worst of all is Plato, both of whose parents have left him alone in the world. He tries desperately to make Jim and Judy his parents (although from this vantage point in time, Plato seems resoundingly sexually attracted to Jim, and he sees Judy as a threat to their relationship. Although the writer/director has denied that forever, no human being can watch it nowadays without that thought constantly crossing their mind).

The reason that I say this film is flawed lies in the actions of Plato near the end of the film. I felt his escalating insanity was kind of a cop-out. Instead of actually delving into Plato's true character and motives by having intelligent and realistic dialogue and actions, he is just made to go batty, wherein he spouts off his thoughts as if he were some eight year old or man-child. Plato may have been sycophantic throughout the film, but he was anything but a moron. His actions provide an easy way for the director/writer to answer all questions about his character, and then to facilitate an ending which is tragic, but more than a little contrived.

Despite what I feel is a cop-out ending, _Rebel Without a Cause remains a thoroughly powerful film. I liked it, and I'll never forget it. 9/10
98 out of 143 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
My favorite Nick Ray film
philfromno8 September 2002
Nicholas Ray may be the most distinctive American director of the 1950s, and certainly the most deeply romantic. His career was marked by indiosyncratic stories about characters driven by deep internal conflicts, inward violence and outward sexual confusion. Rebel Without A Cause is the film where all of his themes meet, and slightly edges out Johnny Guitar and In A Lonely Place as my favorite Ray film.

Some people will certainly find the dialogue here to be rather stilted, and the performances melodramatic. I won't argue. Ray's films in general opposed 'realism' (that most unreal of artistic concepts) in favor of the mythic.

What's particularly satisfying about the film is its cohesiveness, binding together its many disparate events and characters with highly parallel themes and motifs. All of its central characters seem caught in psychosexual conflicts rife with familial gender conflict. Jim (James Dean) is caught between a weakling, effeminated father and a domineering but inneffectual mother. Judy (Natalie Wood) and her father are seperated by his uncomfortable relation to her sexuality. Plato (Sal Mineo), worst of all, is a practical orphan, who suffers all the more for his just under the surface homosexuality. (It's interesting to note here that Plato may be Hollywood's first sympathetic of a gay character.) All of them are driven by internal demons springing from these conflicts.

As usual, Ray is a remarkably sensitive photographer. And here he proves himself a master of color. There are too many beautiful scenes to mention here, but the planetarium scene (with the recorded voiceover about human loneliness) beginning of the 'chickie run' are both stunning.

The film seems divided between claustrophobic nightmares and utopian fantasies. The skewed camera angles of Jim's scenes with his parents contrast with the heavenly dream of teenage paradise in the abandoned house. The staircase motif seems to mark several of these transitions.

In any case, this is a stunning film by a consummate artist, and should certainly be viewed apart from the distorting lens of the James Dean myth. Dean, for his part, is remarkable here, although, as I stated above, the performances here are in a style far removed from what today's audiences are accustomed to.

It's quite silly to say, as several people have here, that this film's themes are 'dated'. They seem to be the constant themes of youth: idealism vs. cynicism, the turmoil of sexual awakening, the desire to fit in, and the internal violence that constantly threatens to become external. To say that these no longer apply because these kids have never heard of ecstasy or the crips is like saying that "Hamlet" no longer rings true because nobody swordfights anymore.

My one complaint about this film is with the title. Certainly quite dramatic, it sounds more like a marketing tagline than any kind of description of the goings on of this film. Jim seems less like a rebel than a young man caught in an inescapable turmoil, and his reaction to the final tragedy belies his lack of a cause. But this is a minor complaint, and I can recommend this film without reservation.
51 out of 76 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Certain Characters Ruin It, Disappointing.
Chasecarson241 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Well, what I thought was going to be a movie about James Dean being a total rebel turned out to be a movie filled with completely mental teenagers.

Let me get started. The character Plato is introduced in the first scene in the police station where all of the other main characters are introduced as well. But instead of being held there for being out too late or for a bit of drunkenness, it is discovered that he killed some puppies. This should already be a red flag for his character. And when asked about why he did it, he responds with "I don't know." Except you can tell that he little douchebag is lying, you know that he has some dark reason hidden on the inside on why he killed those puppies. From the beginning of the movie you know that he is going to be a little douchebag. The next day comes and he meets James Dean's character. For some reason, he becomes so attached to his character for no reason at all, later saying "I hope he takes me hunting and fishing, because I don't know how, and I know he'll teach me." like James Dean is his dad or something. What a weirdo. Then later when he realizes that James Dean is in danger he grabs a gun. RED FLAG. We can tell that no good is going to come out of this. When he falls asleep at the abandoned mansion James Dean and the character Judy go to another room to make out or some crap. Then when the stereotype greasers come to beat him and James Dean up, he freaks out and pulls out his gun and almost kills one of the greasers and almost kills James Dean. He then goes into a trance like condition where he acts like a baby and complains about not having a mommy or daddy while running from the police. He ends up dead. Good. Screw Plato. This all takes place in ONE DAY. In ONE DAY he becomes this attached to another person. COME ON.

Then there is the character Judy. Judy meets James Dean on the first day of school and treats him like fat people do to salad to fit in with her boyfriend Buzz and his stereotype greaser friends. So then later at the Chicken race ,or whatever it is called, Buzz dies by having his jacket caught in the door before he can jump out. So what does Judy do about her now dead boyfriend? Mourn? Cry her eyes out? Nope! She barely appears sad about it and then moves on straight to James Dean within AN HOUR of Buzz's death. Dear Buzz, Sorry, but I don't really care about your death because James Dean is here. From Judy. P.S. Screw you. Later in the movie, which is only like a couple hours later in the story of the film, Judy literally tells James Dean that she is in love with him. Really? She literally just met in him earlier that day. And she is in love with him? It makes no sense at all really, I do not like her at all.

I wish that James Dean could carry this movie on his own, but I just don't like his character that much. I thought he would be more of a rebel, but he just acts more like a rebel when he tries to fit in with the "rebel" crowd.

I'm sorry, I just thought this movie was really disappointing for me.
20 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
James Dean Cult-Classic about "misunderstood" teens in 1950s
mdm-1123 May 2005
Brilliant cast of well-known Hollywood icons in hard-hitting treatment of story that focuses on the hopelessness exhibited by many middle-class teenagers who were too young to recall the pains of WWII, but saw daily reminders of the threat of "the bomb", as well as inequities around them.

James Dean stands out as the troubled kid whose parents keep "moving" to escape their community's effects of their son's strange behavior. Equally great are the performances of Natalie Wood as a "wanna-be-bad-girl" who is hurt by her parents' implications that she is a "tramp"; and the child-like Sal Mineo, who lives in a mansion with a maid, but feels the pains of neglect from never-present parents.

The trio first meet at a police station, where they all see a well-meaning officer who is genuinely interested in getting these troubled kids back on the right track rather than throwing the book at them. He does seem to reach James Dean, who seeks help after getting into more trouble.

The relationship between the James Dean character and that of Sal Mineo is somewhat elusive. At times a more than friendly association is suggested, then the appearance of Natalie Wood makes it look like an odd threesome. 1950s America was definitely unprepared for any "spelling out" of suggested terms, so for nearly 50 years now anyone's guess as to what was going on here is as good as the next.

The supporting cast include Jim Backus as James Dean's well-to-do yet wimpish and henpecked father as well as a young Dennis Hopper as a member of a greaser gang. The parade of big name stars in itself is eye-candy of the highest caliber! References to scientific findings are still awe-inspiring today. Showing young college students' reactions to film footage during a lecture shows that humans can't fully grasp the insignificance of earthly life compared to the vastness of the universe. Carefully watch the final scene as the end credits are shown, when this "point" is driven home.

Rebel Without A Cause is one of the great classics with a sociological impact that has seldom been reached by any film, and likely never surpassed. This film is a ceaseless source of discussions. I recommend this film also for high school History, Sociology or Language Arts classes.
44 out of 68 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
The most emotional of films...
Nazi_Fighter_David28 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Jim Stark (James Dean) is a lonely desperate teenager, who supposedly hasn't a friend in the world when we first see him lying drunk in an L.A gutter... But his personality is such that within a twenty-four-hour period he makes friends with Plato (Sal Mineo) and Judy (Natalie Wood), two misunderstood teenagers completely different from each other and himself...

Every tempestuous young boy who considers himself friendless, confused, and aimless, can easily identify with Jim... For the youth of the middle 1950's, Dean's screen image was a symbol of loneliness, anger, and frustration...

Jim's appealing characteristics are his sincerity, his warmth toward Judy, his concern for his friend Plato (whom no one else likes) his protectiveness, his shyness, his bravery, his good looks, his tender way of kissing, and his desperate need to be loved...

Jim is a troubled new student in a high school in Los Angeles, who is not only willing to reveal that he loves his father, but also has the capacity to cry - which he does often... His one bad characteristic is his violent nature, but at least his fury is not directed at Judy or his friend Plato... He meets these two in jail, where he has been taken on a drunk and disorderly charge...

Jim and Julie have an immediate connection, and Plato warns them against Julie's boyfriend, Buzz... Buzz and his gang slash the tires of Jim's cars and a fight ensues... The boys decide to settle their differences by having a 'chicken run.' Each will drive a stolen car toward the brink of a cliff, and the first to jump before the automobile lunges over will be a coward...

In the 1950s, the two basic ways that youth could rebel seemed to be through acts of violence and delinquency and through gathering into groups and being directed by a group leader... Richard Brooks' "Blackboard Jungle" vividly described that situation...

As teenagers we liked being called 'rebels.' At that age we weren't out to destroy the 'system,' but like Jim we wanted the 'system' to become more sensitive to our needs, to apologize for being careless, and to make us part of the existing order...

At that age we recognized Jim's failure to communicate with his parents, and the way he mumbled when he thought no one was listening and started his sentences over, louder and clearer... He was our ideal... Everything he said was so right, so clever, so cool...

When the unfriendly Judy calls him a YoYo and runs off to join her friends, he says softly, "I love you, too." When the now friendly Judy asks him why he kissed her on the forehead, he says simply: "I felt like it." When Buzz asks him if he knows what a "chickie run" is, he fibs, "That's all I ever do." When Plato asks him if he can keep his jacket, Jim exclaims, "Well, what do you think?"

At that age Nicholas Ray's teenagers were hopelessly confused, seeking advice and getting no answers... Their confusion was symbolized by Plato's mismatched socks... Jim, Judy, and Plato pretend to be a family unit based on a mutual trust and understanding, the only structure which can combat the cosmic emptiness of 'man alone.'

'Rebel Without a Cause' is the first film to suggest that juvenile violence is not necessarily bred in the poor neighborhoods... It is the disenchanted cry of youth, neglected by their parents, and alienated from the adult world...

Judy sobs that her father stops kissing her when she was sixteen, and causes her pain when he labels her a 'dirty tramp.' Plato is lost and in despair because his absent, divorced parents have left him completely in the care of a black housekeeper... During questioning, he asserts: "Nobody can help me."

In watching 'Rebel Without a Cause,' we can see the desperate father-son relationship, the need to be loved and understood as an individual... That is why 'Rebel Without a Cause' is the best of the alienated-youth films of the period, and the most emotional of films...

Dean's death in an automobile accident in 1955 was a crippling blow to one of the most characteristic elements of fifties cinema...
67 out of 108 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Indelible James Dean
Lechuguilla5 September 2009
With short, slicked-back hair, blue eyes and thick red lips, and dressed in a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and bright red jacket, James Dean creates a lasting visual impression as youthful Jim Stark, the prototype high school outsider, alone and troubled. Dean's on-screen persona, together with his vivid, intense performance, overwhelms all other elements in this film about 1950s teenage confusion and angst.

Newly arrived in town, Jim Stark finds himself trapped in a typically hostile high school, and confronted by an in-crowd of leather-jacketed hoods with names like "Buzz", "Crunch", and "Goon". They challenge Jim's honor by calling him "chicken". What to do? Jim asks his weak, mealy-mouthed father (well played by Jim Backus). But his father is no help. Indeed, the film conveys a grim view of adults: self-indulgent, weak, insensitive, unobservant, and inept.

Then there's "Plato" (Sal Mineo), the high school kid who has always been alone, with no apparent father or mother. In Jim Stark, Plato has finally found a friend. Eventually, another student joins Jim and Plato. Judy (Natalie Wood) changes her caddy behavior toward Jim after an event changes her life. But it's still a hostile world, and the bond that these three young people form, as substitute family, is fleeting, en route to a poignant ending.

The film's characters and thematic tone are representative of a Cold War era in America when the threat of nuclear annihilation hovered over everyone and everything like the sword of Damocles. And thus, the story's astronomy motif amplifies a sense of loneliness, insignificance, isolation, and helplessness, so characteristic of the 1950s.

There are things about this film I do not care for. The compressed widescreen projection in "CinemaScope" is annoying. The music, which varies from jazz to rhythm and blues to nondescript noise, is too loud and too manipulative. And there's something vaguely contradictory about a macho James Dean in the role of Jim Stark, whom bullies pick on.

But none of these irritations can diminish the thematic depth of the story. Nor can they diminish the overpowering presence of James Dean, the actor, the perfect Hollywood symbol of youthful "cool", whom actors subsequently looked to as a model of acting excellence and cinematic charisma.
21 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
I think I missed something here
Itchload13 December 2002
Of all the "classic" movies I've seen, I'd have to say Rebel Without a Cause is the most overrated. James Dean is a good actor, but honestly, aside from him, everyone else is over the top.

Let me first list a few things that seemed completely implausible to me: The people in James Dean's new town hate him immediately, without him even doing anything. A highschooler gets his shirt caught in a car door, flies screaming off the edge of a cliff to a explosive firey death, and no one cares. These first two problems wouldn't be that bad if the movie didn't appear to be going for an element of realism. If the whole thing was played as little surreal, or as some sort of social black comedy, I could accept these events, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case.

The character of Plato is atrocious, both acting wise and thematically wise. And yet he becomes the focal point of the movie. My biggest problem is that the themes are literally batted over the audience's head. It becomes immediately clear that James Dean is serving as a replacement father figure for Plato. Plato has mentioned he has no father and no friends, it just becomes very obvious. Does he really need to say things like "yeah, I'm hoping we can go on fishing trips like my dad used to take me on." I refuse to believe audiences were that dumb in the 1950s. (as an aside, the person who argued that Plato was gay, I agree that this is intentional, [how else would he be so attracted to James Dean after only knowing him 3 seconds] and the movie does get some points for slyly tackling a taboo thing like that). However, I desperately wanted Plato to fall victim to a flail of gunfire by the final scene.

Maybe my hopes were too high, It could be that all the themes in this movie have been re-done in more audience-trusting fashion. Still, James Dean was a much better teen idol than we have nowadays.
24 out of 35 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
3/10
Hard to believe this is a classic
rbmack26 April 2013
I had high expectations for this "classic" and was sorely disappointed. The good: Nice to see some not-over-the-top fight/scuffle scenes (in today's movies the fight scenes usually involve each participant receiving at least a dozen lethal blows). Nice to see some familiar faces (Maria, Thurston Howell, The Chief) in their (relative) youth.

These tiny saving graces are greatly overwhelmed by the bad: Ridiculous, unconvincing plot. Bad dialog. Caricaturesque characters. I can forgive the movie for not having stood the test of time (few movies from the 50s do), but hard to believe it was even considered a good movie at the time. I can only attribute the stratospheric stature of the film to the untimely death of James Dean. Purple Haze would have been a great song had Hendrix not died... but Rebel Without A Cause would be as forgotten as Curtain Call at Cactus Creek had James Dean lived to be 90. Or maybe even 30.
19 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
A Classic; the Best-ever Film about Adolescence
JamesHitchcock15 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Contains spoilers

Films about juvenile delinquency were not new in 1955, but earlier films on the subject, such as 'Angels with Dirty Faces' from the late thirties, and even others from the same period, such as 'Blackboard Jungle' which also came out in 1955, had tended to locate the problem among the urban poor of the slums. 'Rebel Without a Cause' is different in that it focuses on delinquency among the teenagers of an affluent middle-class community.

The film starts with a teenage boy named Jim Stark being arrested by the police for being drunk and disorderly and taken to the police station. His parents have recently moved to the area, and he is depressed because his parents move house frequently and he finds it difficult to make new friends. The school which he attends is dominated by a culture of swaggering masculine bravado and aggression. A premium is placed on displays of physical courage and on proving one's worth by fighting; the worst insult in this society is 'chicken'. Boys are expected to fit in with the prevailing ethos in order to gain the respect of their peers and to stand a chance of getting a girlfriend. Although Jim longs for friendship and acceptance, he is also skeptical of this ethos, which makes him something of an outsider. He quarrels with Buzz, the leader of the 'in-crowd', who accuses him of being a 'chicken'. Jim feels forced to prove his courage against Buzz, first in a knife-fight, and then in a 'Chickie Run', a ritualised test of nerve which involves driving stolen cars as close as possible to the edge of a cliff before jumping out. During the latter Buzz is killed when he is unable to escape from his car in time; it is Jim's feelings of guilt arising from this incident, and the desire of Buzz's friends for revenge, which provoke the film's tragic climax.

Although much of the comment about this film has concentrated on the charismatic figure of Dean, the film is not just about Jim. It has at its heart a triangular relationship between Jim and two other teenagers, Judy and Plato, all of whom can be seen as a rebels- 'without a cause' in the sense that they are not motivated by any political or social ideal, but also 'with a cause' in the sense that there is a reason why they act as they do. Nevertheless, in each case the cause of their revolt is subtly different. Each has been brought up in a different way. Jim's parents are kindly and liberal, but are too indulgent. His father, in particular, is well-meaning but weak, unable to provide his son with intelligent advice or with a role-model of manliness.

Plato (whose real name is John, but who prefers to be called by his nickname, which suggests his intellectual nature) is a strange, lonely boy. Our first view of him is at the police station, where he has been arrested for shooting some puppies. We do not learn any more about this incident, but what we hear is enough to suggest that Plato is emotionally disturbed. Plato's parents are separated; he never sees his father and his mother is frequently absent, leaving him to be brought up by an elderly maidservant. The shy, bookish Plato makes no attempt to fit in with the other students, who look down on him, but he sees Jim as a fellow-outsider and befriends him. I felt that there were hints that Plato is sexually attracted to Jim and jealous of his growing friendship with Judy, but in the moral climate of the fifties these hints could not be fully developed. (If my theory is correct, Plato's nickname may also have ironic overtones, Plato being the philosopher who advocated sexless 'platonic' love between males).

Whereas Jim's parents are over-liberal and Plato's absent, Judy's are cold and authoritarian. Unlike the boys, she starts off as a member of the 'in-crowd', as she is Buzz's girlfriend, but after Buzz's death a romance develops between Jim and herself.

The main theme of the film is the choice between the desire to conform to accepted values and the desire to rebel by finding one's own individual ones, a choice that seems particularly acute in one's teenage years. The film suggests that this choice is more complex than might be thought. Although the students are rebellious in the sense that they scorn the more peaceful values of adult life, they are also deeply conformist in the sense that they will tolerate no deviation from their own values. Jim, Judy and Plato can be seen as rebels against not only the older generation but also against the values of their contemporaries. Even Buzz, as much as Jim or Plato, can be seen as a victim of the students' system of values. A more attractive side to his character is shown in the scenes before the fateful 'chickie run' where he and Jim discover a respect, even a liking for one another; certainly, neither wishes any harm to befall the other, but for reasons of honour neither feels able to withdraw from their ritual duel.

Throughout the film there is an atmosphere of heightened emotion- it has not one, but two, emotional climaxes, the 'chickie run' and the final scene where Jim, Judy and Plato are hiding in the planetarium from Buzz's friends and from the police. It is a film that needs fine acting, both to convey this emotional atmosphere and to do justice to its ambitious theme. Fortunately, all three leads are equal to the task. Sal Mineo as Plato and Natalie Wood as Judy are both good, but James Dean is better than good, making the anguished figure of Jim come vividly alive. Although Dean was twenty-four at the time, several years older than the supposed age of his character, he was brilliant at portraying a tormented adolescent. It is strange that he did not receive a 'Best Actor' Oscar nomination. He was, of course, nominated for his role in 'East of Eden'. (Is there a rule which prevents the same actor from being nominated twice in one year?) Some of the supporting cast are also excellent, particularly Jim Backus as Jim's weak but well-meaning father, and Corey Allen, who resists the temptation to play Buzz simply as an arrogant hooligan.

'Rebel Without a Cause' is, in my view, one of the best films of the fifties and probably the best-ever film about adolescence and 'coming of age'. I am surprised it has not made your top 250 films and that it was not nominated for 'Best Picture'. 10/10.
20 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
3/10
Overrated. Unrealistic
ani2181228 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I got the DVD of Rebel without a cause from a shady joint near the port area of Chennai, India. Expecting that I'd laid my hands on a gold mine, both appreciated by critics and loved by the audiences, I started viewing the film with lots of expectations. No, I did not expect Dean to excel in the 'rebel' role. Having seen him in Giant, I was more or less sure about his limitations as an actor. Good looking, suave, lots of charisma to drive the young women mad, Dean sure had his own positive traits. But acting? A veritable no no.. he was just an icon, an image which might not have sustained beyond the peripheral level had we not lost him to time so early. Death made him a hero, and even today a below average film like Rebel without a cause is viewed with very high expectations Coming to the film, I found 'Rebel without a cause' juvenile in script and in execution. Characters are true to life, but have been played badly, in fact, so badly that they appear coming right out of comic books than American small towns. Natalie Wood, in a similar role in West Side Story appeared much more sensible and mature, like a character in flesh and blood, something which we do not normally associate with musicals. Was it that she wanted to do proper justice to Maria , something she had failed in portraying Lina? The biggest shocker is James Dean. His acting is comparable to C grade heroes of Indian cinema. I could have imagined Jeetendra and Salman Khan acting in this manner, but Dean? Anyway, I had the experience of watching Giant where Dean was comprehensively overshadowed by Rock Hudson , not a great actor himself, hence, had to adjust to the Americanism and halo surrounding the star.

Nicholas Ray may be a good director, I don't know. But apart from the action sequences, nothing impresses you. The family squabbles are like scenes emerging out of South Indian 'masala' films, smeared with sentimentalism and having almost no pointer at logic at all. Script and screenplay does not really help. In effect, it appears like a lolly pop / chocolate effort at creating something which could have really been a great film, a film which could have been a real poignant representative of its times.
24 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Miscast without a cause
peter-bruck1 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Between all the new stuff I like watching a real classic once in a while. Sometimes I really enjoy them. I liked Casablanca a lot and loved North by Northwest. Even though they're old and some lines seem out of time and some plot points seem too obvious cause they were copied hundreds of times, they have a certain flair that makes them watchable. In the case of Rebel without a cause, I fear, this wasn't the case. People in their Mid- Twenties play characters who go to High School. James Dean was a grown up man but acts like a 13 year old through out the movie. It was so ridiculous, I thought at first: Wait, was this supposed to be a parody? The only character that wasn't miscast was Plato. It just didn't fit. But that wasn't the only problem. Take for example the scene after the chicken run. Judy's boyfriend just died in a car accident, but then Jim gives her back her make-up mirror and she's happy again. Come on! I'm not willing to believe that people were so stupid back in the 50ies. And it wasn't just James Dean's rebel that had no cause. Hardly anything that anybody did in this movie had any kind of reason at all. It was anarchy, and you could argue that that was the point of the movie, but I consider that lack of motivation for the character's actions were indeed a failure in the attempted psychological approach. It was overdone, and the casting problems made this entire picture hard to cope with. To me it seemed like a B-movie, not a classic in any way.
13 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Dreamy-tragic teen angst...
moonspinner5527 May 2006
A wallow: decent, 'nice' high school kids heading down the wrong track, due to peer-pressure and parental misguidance. This had a strong impact with audiences in 1955--yet most likely with 12 or 13-year olds, not with the type of older teenagers portrayed on-screen. It looks like a prepubescent's idea of what grown-up teen-life is like, its troubles forged with romantic sturm and drang. There are strong moments, especially when focusing on the students' home lives (Jim Backus is particularly effective as James Dean's spineless father), but the j.d. stuff (knife fights, chicken races, etc.) is awfully rote. Sal Mineo's character of a moony-eyed juvenile with absentee parents is a writer's conceit: his gooey, over-the-top sincerity borders on caricature. James Dean and Natalie Wood are somewhat better, but are they really attuned to these directionless young people? There's so much movie-magazine gloss sticking to the surface, it's difficult to tell. **1/2 from ****
13 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
rubbish
IbleSnover15 January 2007
OK, so obviously ppl thought this was a good movie in 1955.

I pity the fools who still think so... Its absolute rubbish.

The story is just ... ridiculous. The characters are absurd caricatures - but this film is not meant to satirise, im sure its meant to be a serious drama isn't it?

Dean and others, are too old for their parts. People say Dean is great in this film, and well, maybe he did play his part as well as he possibly could've. His character is meant to be 16 or 17 or so. But Dean was a 24 year old man when he made this film. Seeing him agonise and throw little tantrums like a 4 year old boy... its pathetic.

Natalie Wood is gorgeous, but the early scenes at the police station where she is crying and whining are very unconvincing. It sets a bad precedent for the film... and for the rest of it, you feel like cringing every time one of these badly acted emotional scenes comes along.

It may've been good for its time, but, really, its drivel.

It must've just been hype about Dean's death that has over-inflated the reputation of this film.
30 out of 48 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
No
carljessieson8 April 2015
I was really excited about this one because of how iconic James Dean is and because I had never seen something with him in it before, and honestly, I was disappointed. I was really annoyed throughout the entire movie. I read a little bit more about the movie afterward and it enlightened me to the film's strengths that gave it "classic" status, which helped a little bit, but I can't ignore the fact that this was a really annoying movie.

I don't usually pay too much attention to film titles, but this one truly says it all. Bunch of angry suburban kids causing mischief for no reason, essentially. I get that there was an element of emotional neglect from adults, which fueled their teenage debauchery, but it played out like a bunch of spoiled white kids messing everything up for everyone else because they didn't know how to deal with their problems. It's a real issue, this painful separation between generations, but this movie was so melodramatic about it. I hate to compare negatives (because a negative is a negative and that's that), but there are a multitude of other more important, more devastatingly horrible issues out there. I don't expect every movie to tackle an societal problem, I get that some movies are just fun, but if they wanted to make a drama about a problem, they should have picked something else. I just didn't care. I didn't feel bad for these kids.

It was so dramatic, the story was weak, a vessel for the studio to make money off of Dean more than anything. That's like every Zac Efron movie. Not much substance, but with an exceptionally attractive male displaying both strength and sensitivity- it's a formula to make profit. That's why I'm surprised this is a classic. Seems like something a 1950s Teen Nick might put out for a quick buck or something. The story-telling was bizarre, also. They tried to do some kind of "let's get this story started and fill in the blanks of his past later," which I've seen work many times, but it just didn't work here. I felt like I came into a movie halfway through, too many details merely implied, too many rapid jumps in story/relationships, just made it frustratingly mysterious for no reason. Pacing was so strange. Starts out ominous and tense, then after bad things happen, it gets light-hearted and silly.

The only things I really enjoyed were the aesthetics, and I'm not sure how much credit they should get for that considering the ~aesthetics~ I enjoyed so much were just how things looked back then. I also did see the spark that has made James Dean so legendary despite his short career/life. His acting was over-the-top, in my opinion, at some points, but he really did have something about him that was fascinating.

Such a bizarre film to me. By the time it was over I had more questions than I had answers and that is enormously frustrating. I really, really didn't like it but I'm so confused that I didn't enjoy such a widely beloved film so I might try to give it a viewing again but I highly doubt it.

5/10

Bye love you
14 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
2/10
Hardly could have been worse
christophe9230019 May 2014
Rebel Without a Cause is incredibly weak on every level, and the little that's offered is so absurd and incoherent it would destabilize the most tolerant.

Whether it is the plot itself, uninteresting because almost non-existent, or the characters you are told nothing about and who are even a bit creepy in their behaviours, everything just stays superficial in this scenario which, as often happened in those days, tried to mix different genres but never went deeper on any of them, the most blatant example being the rushed and totally unbelievable love story between Jim and Judy.

The content hardly could have been worse and unfortunately the form doesn't compensate for, the direction is clearly poor, the editing and soundtrack don't match the action.
14 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Don't call me chicken...
moviemanMA17 December 2005
The teenage years are a confusing time for anyone. You start to act different, think different, and realize that you are growing up and there is nothing you can do about it. For Jim Stark this is more than he can handle.

Nicholas Ray's classic Rebel Without a Cause is a look into the life of Jim Stark (James Dean) and his attempt to try and figure out what he wants to do with his life. Should he try to become an adult or should he enjoy what little time he has left and cut loose?

The movie opens with Jim after he has had a few too many drinks. After being taken to the police station his parents are brought in to help find out what he did and why he did it. His parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran) are torn over what to do with him. The father is understanding but the mother wants him to learn his lesson and make sure it does not happen again. Their fighting is "tearing him apart!".

Also at the station is Judy (Natalie Wood) and John "Plato" Crawford (Sal Mineo). Jim offers his coat to Plato but he refuses. It was just a kind gesture, but given Plato's emotional state, it is a justified response.

The next day is Jim's first day at his new school. He leaves the house in a good mood, telling his parents how this might be it for him. After meeting Judy, who appears to be unfazed by the incident she had in the police station, Jim is off to school where he learns of a field trip for that afternoon to the planetarium.

It is hear where he encounters Buzz, the leader of the "cool" crowd. After slashing Jim's tires, it's "examination time", or a little knife fight. No jabbing, just sticking. Jim almost loses it but keeps his cool. Buzz challenges Jim to a "chicee race" at the bluffs. Jim accepts having no idea what that is.

The events that follow are like a wild goose chase for Jim and his new friends. They go everywhere from the bluffs, to an abandoned mansion, and the planetarium. It's a wonderfully written script using great dialogue between Jim and his parents. The camera work is also a magnificent display, using great angles and unique shots. Ray had the perfect vision of what he wanted his film to look like.

Color is often used to showcase significance or symbolize a certain aspect of the film. Jim's red jacket, Judy's red coat in the beginning, and Buzz and all his cronies where black leather coats.

Dean's performance is remarkable. It is a shame he was only featured in 3 films, none the less, he is one of America's icons. He symbolizes what every guy wants to be. He is not the only good performer. Backus gives a tremendous performance as the father, the understanding, somewhat lenient parent of Jim Stark. Wood and Mineo both received Oscar nominations and both were well deserved.

As mentioned earlier, these are the most confusing years for a teenager. One scene that says it perfectly is after the knife incident when Jim comes home. He walks up the stairs to find what appears to be his mother in an apron cleaning up. It turns out to be his father cleaning up the food he spilled for his wife who is a little under the weather. They both laugh and Jim tells him to leave the food so she can see it. The father doesn't understand and Jim just keeps telling him to. He gets flustered and walks away. He stutters and just can't give a straight answer to his father. This is a perfect comparison to much of Jim's life. He does something but cannot explain it.

Rebel Without a Cause is a classic from the 1950's. A movie that to this day is a perfect example of how each new generation is as rebellious as the one before it.
27 out of 44 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
A Tale Of Three Misfits
bkoganbing16 April 2008
In his three film trilogy James Dean worked with three of the best directors around, George Stevens in Giant, Elia Kazan in East of Eden, and Nicholas Ray for Rebel Without A Cause. The first two films came from the inspiration of two of the best American writers of the last century, Edna Ferber and John Steinbeck. But in Rebel Without A Cause the inspiration was director Nicholas Ray himself who wrote was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Story for the screen.

The Fifties was certainly the era for those rebel type films, but Rebel Without A Cause is unique because it deals with these bored upper middle class kids. It's as different a film as The Wild One with Marlon Brando and those working class biker types or the urban school kids of The Blackboard Jungle as you can get. The problems of this crowd just don't seem as serious as those in the other two films.

But because of the quality performances of James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo you do sort of feel for these kids. Dean is a misfit like he was in East of Eden, in fact his parents have just moved because of trouble he'd gotten into in his previous school. Unlike in East of Eden where Dean had this almost godlike father in Raymond Massey who he felt he couldn't measure up to, in Rebel Without A Cause he's dealing with Jim Backus who's an ineffectual henpecked sort with Ann Doran and her mother, Virginia Brissac. Dean himself was raised by an aunt and uncle in Indiana so he could identify with both Cal Trask and Jim Stark. Come to think of it you could include Jett Rink in there as well.

Natalie Wood also has father problems, William Hopper who just doesn't know how to deal with the fact that 'daddy's little girl' is blossoming into womanhood. Her mother, Rochelle Hudson, is one of those who looks like she's suffering a permanent headache and has abandoned the family ship to dear old dad. It's more an absence of mother and Hopper trying to do both roles which he just can't handle.

But Dean and Wood have parents. Sal Mineo is being raised by the maid in his very wealthy home. He's got all the material things, but he's a rather geeky kid who just doesn't fit in. He's also experiencing latent homosexuality in an age where that was the worst thing on the planet to be and no visible gay community to tell you it wasn't. By the way Marietta Canty as the maid is outstanding in this film, she's miles away from the maid roles of Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel.

So these three find each other and find a gang of kids who race their expensive automobiles against each other for speed and against each other for daring in the famous 'chicken run' scene. When the gang leader Corey Allen is killed racing against Dean, he becomes a kind of martyr to them and trouble brews for our three misfits.

Both Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo were nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Wood lost to Jo Van Fleet from that other James Dean classic East of Eden and Mineo lost to Jack Lemmon in Mr. Roberts. As for Dean he was up that year posthumously for East of Eden.

It wasn't only James Dean's tragic death that made him a legend. He was getting acclaim for his performance in East of Eden when he was killed on September 30, 1955. His stunning impact came after his death as fans were mesmerized by the promise of things to come in Rebel Without A Cause which came out about four weeks later and with Giant which Dean had just wrapped shooting on. This dead actor had film fans talking everywhere right up to the Oscars of 1957 ceremony where he was nominated for 1956's Giant. If ever a player left the scene with fans begging for more it was James Dean.

Seen today over 50 years later Rebel Without A Cause still remains the ultimate film in teen angst. I think it's destined to be so for generations to come.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
James Dean.
AaronCapenBanner8 November 2013
Nicholas Ray directed this popular and influential film that stars James Dean as Jim Stark, who has just moved to a new town, and tries to make a good impression on his high schoolmates, but they prove reluctant, and instead challenge him to a switchblade fight, then a "chicken run" with their cars. Natalie Wood plays Judy, who comes over to Jim's side, and they fall in love. Sal Mineo plays their friend nicknamed "Plato", who idolizes them, which leads to near-tragic consequences. Jim Backus & Ann Doran play Jim's baffled parents, and William Hopper plays Judy's disinterested father. Good direction and acting compensate for sometimes cornball & overly stylized story that nonetheless appealed to its generation.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
"You're tearing me apart!"
sme_no_densetsu30 May 2009
Like any film that strives to be current, "Rebel Without a Cause" has inevitably become dated since its release over fifty years ago. Therefore, you have to make allowances for this and take it in the context of its time. Those willing to do so will recognize the film as a substantial offering, especially for a film about young people.

Certain aspects of the plot may be dated but the emotions are timeless. Each of the teens is looking for something different from their parents. Jim is hounded by the question of what it takes to be a man but gets no help from his hen-pecked father. Judy justifiably feels unloved due to her father's suddenly frigid demeanor. Plato, meanwhile, doesn't even have his parents around at all, therefore he feels lonely and abandoned. These problems (and a multitude of others) haven't vanished in the time since this film was released.

The direction by Nicholas Ray brings this story to life and shows some interesting touches along the way. The opening credits with Jim drunkenly messing around with a toy monkey is just one memorable scene. The 'chickie run' scene is perhaps the film's most memorable set-piece.

The movie also benefits from a legendary performance from James Dean, who didn't even live long enough to see the film hit theatres. His performance here is angst-ridden and filled with nuance. Perhaps his best scene is the one in which he confronts his parents when he returns from the chicken run. Puzzlingly, though, he never got an Oscar nomination while both Mineo & Wood did. Mineo was certainly deserving but to me Wood's performance was nothing particularly special. Also notable was Jim Backus who turned in a fine performance as Jim's father.

The film contains a wealth of deeper meaning and, depending on who you ask, possibly some taboo-defying sexual undertones. After seeing the film a few times I'm no longer so sure about the supposed homosexual subtext of Jim & Plato's friendship; that may be more of a by-product of their respective issues stemming from missing or ineffective father figures. Judy's relationship to her father is also not without sexual undertones but, again, this may be a by-product of the issue at hand; that is, her father's lack of overt affection as she blossoms into maturity. Regardless of whether or not any of this was the intent of the film-makers they were nevertheless daring to present such provocative material while the production code was still in effect.

All in all, a fine film that is deservedly lauded as a classic decades later. Check it out but be sure to put yourself in a fifties state of mind.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Rebel With a Woefully Average Cause
andwoos2 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A common theme with critically acclaimed "classic" movies that I have unfortunately stumbled upon is that the movies in question are mediocre and nothing special, but are still seen as great movies. This time the latest casualty of this disease that plagues cinema as an art-form is Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean is often praised as one of the greatest actors of his generation, and he certainly did not prove himself worthy of that title in this film, considering his overacting in just about every scene and generally just looking like he's choking out each of his lines in a pained gasp for an undeserved academy award. His less than stellar acting was met with an equally poorly done soundtrack, with cheesy sound cues telling you what to feel in a scene (because why not? good directing to set a mood requires far more effort). Along with those two complaints you get an equally lackluster script that drags on to an anti-climactic ending--undeniably fitting for such an unimpressive movie. The only thing that keeps this movie at a 5, and stops it from going lower is respectably good blocking and cinematography, unfortunately writing is all that matters in film, so while the rating doesn't go down to a 4, it certainly doesn't deserve to be raised to a 6. 5/10.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed