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Rebel Without a Cause

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Rebel Without a Cause

Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood
Director: Nicolas Ray
Rated: NR
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: October 1955
Genres: Classic, Cult, Drama

*Also starring: Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson, Corey Allen, Edward Platt, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams

Review by Brian Koller
2½ stars out of 4

"Rebel Without a Cause" had an outstanding, if unfortunate, promotional gimmick. Young, charismatic lead James Dean, his star on the rise from his performance in the highly successful "East of Eden", died in a car accident less than a month before the film's release. Perhaps this was a case of life imitating art, since a dangerous game of 'chicken' is one of the highlights of "Rebel". With its attractive leads, a teens-in-peril theme, and a fast-moving plot, "Rebel" was a tremendous commercial success. It also created a cultural impact that formed the basis for its critical praise. Along with "The Wild One", "Blackboard Jungle" and rock 'n' roll music, "Rebel" fanned fears (justified or not) among conservative parents that teens would choose anti-establishment heroes and values.

The story features three teenagers, each from dysfunctional families. Jim (James Dean) has a shrewish mother (Ann Doran) and spineless father, leaving him afraid of becoming a 'chicken' like his father (Jim Backus). Judy (Natalie Wood) has a father (William Hopper) who is physically repelled by her, making her anxious to find love from a father substitute. Plato is a creepy, sad-faced teen whose parents are absent, leaving him to be raised by a nanny (Marietta Canty). Plato is looking for substitutes for both mother and father, momentarily achieving this when Jim and Judy appear willing. Anyway, that is my amateur psychological evaluation of the leads. Your mileage may vary.

Our three troubled teens have brushes with the law and with gangs of tough-talking hoodlums led by Buzz (Corey Allen) and Goon (Dennis Hopper). "Rebel Without a Cause" expresses the theory that juvenile delinquents from affluent, 'good' families is not the fault of the mixed-up kids, but their mixed-up parents. The apparent conclusion is that the social problem can be solved by assigning a psychiatrist to every juvenile offender, ideally with their parents participating.

James Dean's onscreen persona is surprisingly sensitive and loyal to his friends. He only resorts to violence when he is forced to, except for a frustrated attack on his dithering, hapless father. Backus actually wears a large, matronly apron throughout one lengthy scene: Dean, you'll have to find a role model elsewhere.

"Rebel Without a Cause" was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor (Mineo) and Actress (Wood). Dean was posthumously nominated for Best Actor that year, but for the film "East of Eden", losing to (believe it or not) Ernest Borgnine.

Copyright 1997 Brian Koller

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