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On October 25, 1955, Rebel Without a Cause opened in New York to ecstatic reviews.

Variety found Rebel Without a Cause to be "exciting, suspenseful and provocative," but the film could not "escape comparison with Metro's recent Blackboard Jungle (1955)." The critic predicted that James Dean's performance would "excite discussion, especially in connection with the irony of his own recent crash death under real-life conditions of recklessness which form a macabre press-agent frame as the picture goes into release." The critic also warned that after seeing Rebel Without a Cause and other recent youths-gone-wild pictures, adults might come away "with a need to believe the facts hideously exaggerated and a silent prayer that they never meet such youths except upon the motion picture screen."

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther found Rebel Without a Cause to be "violent, brutal and disturbing," but he wished that James Dean "had not been so intent on imitating Marlon Brando in varying degrees."

Time magazine rightly recognized that the best thing about Rebel Without a Cause was undoubtedly James Dean, an actor "of unusual sensibility and charm."

In his essay on the movie for The A List (Da Capo Press), film critic Jay Carr wrote "Rebel Without a Cause, an allegory of growth and the painfulness of growth, transcends its own lurid excesses and now-dated topicality to stand as the kind of big pop myth that defines the Hollywood studio movie at its most potent."

In Cult Movies (Delta Press), Danny Peary wrote "Rebel Without a Cause isn't a very didactic, moralistic film. It is in some ways strongly pessimistic: the dawn that brings on a new better life (hopefully) for Jim and Judy signals Plato's death....Watch the film - see how essential it is for each character to be touched, hugged, and kissed by his/her lovers, friends, and family members....In order for the characters in Rebel to have strength enough to make it through another day, they must revive themselves through physical contact. That is why Rebel Without a Cause is the most emotional of films."

In The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, film scholar Doug Tomlinson wrote this about Rebel Without a Cause: "In this, his first film in Cinemascope, Nicholas Ray signalled his reputation as the American master in the format. Having studied on a Frank Lloyd Wright scholarship, Ray had a clearly defined sense of spatial relations, an ability which made much of his film noir work especially charged. In the Cinemascope features he developed an aesthetic of the horizontal which, particularly in Rebel Without a Cause, lent a sensuality to the images of alienation. If this feeling pervaded exteriors, a sense of claustrophobia permeated the spatial tensions of the cluttered interiors."

Rebel Without a Cause was nominated for three Academy Awards: Sal Mineo for Best Supporting Actor, Natalie Wood for Best Supporting Actress, and Nicholas Ray for Best Motion Picture Story. That same year, James Dean was nominated for Best Actor, but for his first film, East of Eden (1955).

Rebel Without a Cause earned a place on the National Film Registry in 1990.

by Scott McGee and Jeff Stafford

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