Rebel Without a Cause

Rebel Without a Cause
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The bad boy from a good family.
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7.6/10 by 264 users
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After moving to a new town, troublemaking teen Jim Stark is supposed to have a clean slate, although being the new kid in town brings its own problems. While searching for some stability, Stark forms a bond with a disturbed classmate, Plato, and falls for local girl Judy. However, Judy is the girlfriend of neighborhood tough, Buzz. When Buzz violently confronts Jim and challenges him to a drag race, the new kid's real troubles begin.

Title:Rebel Without a Cause
Release Date:October 27, 1955
Runtime:
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Genres:Drama
Production Co.:Warner Bros.
Production Countries:United States of America
Director:Nicholas Ray
Writers:, ,
Casts:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Plot Keywords:individual, rebel, street gang, car race, parents kids relationship, underground world, authority, unsociability, teen rebel
Alternative Titles:
  • ... denn sie wissen nicht, was sie tun - [DE]
  • Rebelde sin causa - [ES]

Rebel Without a Cause Reviews

  • Well you gotta do SOMETHIN'.
    by Evan Talbott (etalbott@hotmail.com) on 18 May 2000

    152 out of 191 people found the following review useful:

    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.

  • Just so far ahead of its time....
    by Brigid O Sullivan (wisewebwoman) on 7 December 2004

    112 out of 162 people found the following review useful:

    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.

  • Not perfect, but still extraordinary
    by zetes on 17 July 2000

    93 out of 138 people found the following review useful:

    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

  • Powerful
    by (pedro_miguel@juno.com) on 17 April 1999

    51 out of 68 people found the following review useful:

    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.

  • First American Teenager
    by humdinger on 28 June 2003

    44 out of 58 people found the following review useful:

    "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.....

  • The most emotional of films...
    by Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) on 28 March 2003

    66 out of 107 people found the following review useful:

    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...

  • My favorite Nick Ray film
    by philfromno on 8 September 2002

    48 out of 73 people found the following review useful:

    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.

  • James Dean Cult-Classic about "misunderstood" teens in 1950s
    by mdm-11 on 23 May 2005

    43 out of 66 people found the following review useful:

    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.

  • Greatest movie of 1950's
    by Mika Pykäläaho (bygis80@hotmail.com) on 19 December 2002

    43 out of 66 people found the following review useful:

    James Dean is an unbelievable actor. Basically his whole career consists of only three movies he acted in just right before his tragic death. Yet still, almost 50 years later people recognize his name and face. He's an icon of the 1950's and in the same line with Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley. That's simply miraculous, movie history knows no other example of anything like it. I personally consider Jimmy as one of my favorite actors too. Of course he is a sensational talent and maybe it's partly because he really had only three big performances so no one ever saw him actually doing something wrong, choosing a bad role or whatever. I personally think that James Dean would have been nearly as big if "Rebel without a cause" was his only movie. His devoted, stylish and touching larger-than-life performance as Jim Stark is just startling experience to watch. Legendary "Rebel without a cause" is a timeless drama and in many ways it's far from being old fashioned. It's moving, beautiful and incredibly impressive, the best movie of its decade and one of the best movies ever made. Period. 10/10.

  • Indelible James Dean
    by Lechuguilla on 5 September 2009

    19 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

    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.

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