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  Rebel Without a Cause Don't They Know It's The End Of The World?
Year: 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson, Dennis Hopper, Edward Platt, Steffi Sidney, Marietta Canty, Virginia Brissac, Beverly Long, Ian Wolfe, Frank Mazzola, Robert Foulk, Nick Adams
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Teenager Jim Stark (James Dean) has been brought in to the police station of this Los Angeles suburb on a charge of public drunkenness, not a good start to his time here having recently moved to the area with his parents. They are called to pick him up, but in the meantime the juvenile crime officer Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) tries to talk to him, in spite of Jim throwing a punch which misses. Fremick suggests he take out his frustrations on an inanimate object rather than a person, and the boy kicks and punches the desk until his hands are too sore to carry on. But he is not the only troubled soul there tonight...

James Dean was already dead by the time Rebel Without a Cause was released, having been killed in a car crash about a month before the movie hit the cinemas in the United States, by which stage his popularity, never mind the worldwide sorrow at his demise, was near fever pitch with the younger generation. This ensured the film was a huge hit, whether out of genuine grief and tribute or out of a morbid curiosity, or maybe a measure of both, and Dean was already an icon of the silver screen, and remains so to this day. Watching Rebel now, his performance is not quite as startling as it was back then with its almost shambling, improvised air, but that is solely because of the influence on the actors who came after him.

He does seem more "modern" to twenty-first century eyes than anyone else in the film, and this is what makes the production endure in pop culture, even if its preoccupations with juvenile delinquency look a little quaint for what the censors allowed them to show in its day. This was very much an issues-based work, with director Nicholas Ray wishing to be faithful to the problems the youth of America were facing, leaving with you a sense of how earnest the whole thing was as the drama wears its heart on its sleeve. This topic was a popular one in the movies of the day, but usually with cheap, sensationalistic exploitation efforts, so Rebel had the novelty of being a serious film with a serious take on this debate.

That doesn't prevent it from toppling over into melodrama or overstatement, of course, and if you didn't know you were watching a film where the three main characters had daddy issues, you would be in no doubt by the end: Jim's frilly apron-wearing dad (Jim Backus) is a weak figure in his life, trying to do his best but too ineffectual to guide him, while as for the other two, Judy (Natalie Wood) doesn't receive the affection she wants from her father now he sees her as too grown up for kisses, which leads her to get picked up for soliciting at the beginning of the movie, and poor, confused, gay Plato (Sal Mineo) doesn't have any parents at all. Or rather he does, but they're divorced and have no interest in bringing him up, leaving the maid (Marietta Canty) to look after him.

Plato has been brought in for killing puppies, just to lay on his family outlook with the depth deemed appropriate by Ray: he could have been accused of heavy-handedness to say the least. Yet the playing of the three principals, who to contribute to the mystique of this all died prematurely, adds immense sympathy to what could have been caricature and you can see how Plato feels at home with Jim and Judy as stand-in parents near the end of the story. The intensity of these young people's emotions needed that kind of emphasis so we can understand what makes them tick, with this more than a simple "parents just don't understand" gripe, so when they head off on their own into the night, it's a relief that they have found somewhere - and someone - to be comfortable with. The chickie run that prompts their flight, the sequence at the planetarium which makes them contemplate the end of mankind, Dean's heartfelt "You're tearing me apart!", it's all perfectly pitched, so you'll forgive its self-applied momentousness: this was the best Dean ever was, and the kindness he brings out in his portrayal is very touching. Music by Leonard Rosenman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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