Rebel Without a Cause
- Nicholas Ray
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, November 08, 2005
The story begins in a police station where three young people have been taken: Jim Stark (Dean), found drunk in the street and accused of an act of vandalism, Judy (Natalie Wood), taken for a tramp for walking in the street by herself in the middle of the night, and John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo), who shot some puppies in an unexplainable outburst of rage. The three have something in common: they’re confused and lonely. Their parents or caretakers don’t help: Jim’s dad (Jim Backus) is easily manipulated by his wife (Ann Doran) and neither understands what their son is going through; Judy’s father (William Hopper) has no clue how to cope with his daughter’s coming of age, and her mother (Rochelle Hudson) is not much help; and Plato’s nanny (Marietta Canty) tries unsuccessfully to replace his absent parents.
The three go home after a rough night and get ready to live through the next day, if their way of being can be called living.
Surprisingly, that vulnerable girl turns out to be one of the popular kids and quickly snubs her new neighbor, Jim, when he says hello the morning after. Plato is one of the rejects, shy enough to stay away from most everybody. Jim is willing to make new friends, probably in hopes to finally let his parents settle after so many moves on account of him. But all he finds is hostility, since Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen), the leader of the “kids” and Judy’s boyfriend, doesn’t think he’s funny, and agrees to give him a hard time. In fact, Buzz secretly likes Jim, but still challenges him to a “chicky-race”, which sounds like danger, because they’ve “gotta do something.”
The chicky-race is a car competition where the drivers must jump before the stolen cars fall into a cliff; first man to jump is a chicken. Tragedy ensues, and the world of these young people is shaken to say the least. Their reactions are unbelievable but somehow ring true: Judy must cope with a great loss but she’s just numb and the situation at home doesn’t help; Jim is guilt-stricken but even an urge to do the right thing is unwelcome; Plato feels like he’s found real friends and a family for the first time and is more than anxious to start a new life. The three start living an alternate reality while they learn to understand themselves and their needs and the way to help each other. But third parties won’t let their utopia happen. Things can’t end up well when they’ve started so bad.
There are so many assets in this movie that it’s hard to name them all. I’d say the most important is it perfectly understands how teenagers see life, how every new adventure and misadventure seems to be the whole world to them and any change can be either life-threatening or the only hope for life. Nicholas Ray, that great master of visuals (aided by cinematographer Ernest Haller), presents so many strong images they’re unforgettable scene-by-scene. Of course everyone knows Dean’s red jacket over a white tee shirt, but that’s only one of the indelible visuals the movie has. Everything is harmonious with the story and emphasizes the feelings of the characters at every turn. To make procedures much more powerful, Leonard Rosenman added an incredibly dramatic, romantic, and action-filled score.
The young performers, many of which met early and/or tragic deaths, are all extraordinary. The three leads are at the top of their games but all the “kids” are great too, including Dennis Hopper and Frank Mazzola. Also worthy of mention is Edward Platt as the only understanding adult of the film.
A true American classic that’ll keep speaking to young people of generations to come…
“You’re tearing me apart!”
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