Teenager Jim Stark (James Dean) struggles to make sense of his middle class upbringing and the gnawing restlessness within himself, made worse by a mother and father completely out of touch with his problems and concerns. As the new kid at the local high school, Jim is treated like an outsider but he eventually finds a kindred spirit in fellow students Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo). The three form an unconventional "family" of their own but their strong bond only temporarily brings them love, acceptance, and security before outside forces tear them apart.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Producer: David Weisbart
Screenplay: Stewart Stern from an adaptation by Irving Shulman and a story by Nicholas Ray
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Production Design: Malcolm C. Bert
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Dean (Jim), Jim Backus (Dad), Ann Doran (Mom), Virginia Brissac (Grandmother), Natalie Wood (Judy), William Hopper (Judy's Dad), Rochelle Hudson (Judy's Mother), Corey Allen (Buzz), Sal Mineo (Plato), Dennis Hopper (Goon), Nick Adams (Chick).
Why REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is Essential
One of the cinema's most enduring, masterfully-directed troubled-youth pictures, Rebel Without A Cause
(1955) launched James Dean's career even as it signaled its abrupt end. Released just one month after Dean died in a car accident near Paso Robles, California at the age of 24, Rebel Without A Cause
captured both the young star's astounding screen magnetism and tinderbox emotions, as well as the angst of an entire generation.
In Rebel Without a Cause
, Dean embodied the 1950s conflict between American youth and their parents. It was a conflict marked by various symptoms of social unrest - drugs, violence, sexual promiscuity, anxiety over the future, and alienation. More than some predecessors, like Blackboard Jungle
(1955), confined their juvenile delinquents to a specific place (an inner city high school). Rebel Without a Cause
presented troubled youths that could have lived right next door to Ozzie and Harriet.
Taking his cue from the current pop culture fixation with the juvenile delinquent, director Nicholas Ray found his inspiration for Rebel Without A Cause
in the true account authored by Dr. Robert Lindner, of a young criminal being treated in Pennsylvania's Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. But Ray went his own way when it came to adapting Lindner's tale of a teen sociopath to the screen, treating their problems with insight and empathy and investing his teenage characters with a greater emotional depth.
Ray claimed that he wanted Rebel Without A Cause
to work beyond the juvenile delinquency newspaper headlines and films of the day, like The Wild One
(1954). Instead, Ray strove for a classical tone, and claimed Romeo and Julie
as inspiration, "the best play written about 'juvenile delinquents.'" Ray said.
Ray cast the then relatively unknown James Dean, who had distinguished himself in TV but had yet to make a mark in film (though his star-making performances in East of Eden
(1955) and Giant
(1956) were about to reach the screen), as the charismatic, vulnerable, terminally misunderstood teenager of the title. Natalie Wood, who has proven so enduringly luminous and tragic as Judy, was initially rejected for the role of Jim Stark's girlfriend because of her previous fame as a child star. But Ray soon changed his mind about Wood's goody two-shoes image when she was involved in a car crash with some other Hollywood hooligans like Dennis
Hopper, and convinced the director she was more than just a pretty face. The casting of Sal Mineo as the fragile, troubled Plato was equally fortuitous considering Mineo's own recent expulsion from his Bronx high school for running with some young toughs.
Ray and Dean shared not only a passion for "reefer" and a common past as struggling actors, but possessed a more uncommon spiritual affinity. Trusting in Dean's vision, Ray gave free rein to the actor to interpret the script as he saw fit and to improvise both acting and dialogue in the film. The cast often took its cues not from Ray, but from the Method-acting entranced Dean who later confessed that Rebel Without A Cause
"used me up. I could never take so much out of myself again."
Since its October 1955 release, Rebel Without A Cause
has become one of the archetypal films of teenage angst, an enduring hit with successive generations and a harbinger of things to come in the tumultuous Sixties. The fact that all of the film's stars, Nick Adams, Dean, Wood and Mineo died tragically and early has also lent a mystique to this powerful, groundbreaking film that continues to this day.
by Felicia Feaster and Scott McGee