Thursday, March 14, 2013

296. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: Nicholas Ray
Written By: Nicholas Ray, Irving Shulman, Stewart Stern
Main Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran
Click here to view the trailer


I hope to wrap up "Ray Week" either tonight or tomorrow. I can't say that I've been particularly impressed with Mr. Ray, however, "Rebel Without a Cause" was certainly a step in the right direction.

The film opens with Jim Stark (Dean) lying in the street, drunk and marveling over a wind-up toy monkey. He's subsequently hauled into jail and since he's a minor, his parents are phoned. After his parents arrive, we learn that Jim's father (Backus) and mother (Doran) move him around from place to place, anytime he gets into any trouble. After an outburst in the middle of the station ("You're tearing me apart!), the police chief in charge of juvenile crimes has a one on one talk with Jim and learns that Jim resents his father for not having the guts to stand up to his wife, Jim's mother. The policeman manages to get Jim calm and sends the Starks packing. Also at the police station, we meet Judy (Wood), another conflicted teenager, who seems to have "daddy issues". And since everything here seems to hinge on the police station, before he leaves Jim also meets Plato (Mineo), a third troubled teen (what a coincidence that all of these troubled teens, who would go on to be a big part in each others lives, were all arrested on the same night) who is arrested for...shooting puppies! So we finally get out of the police station and later, all of the teens end up at the same school, despite the fact that Plato looks half the age of Judy and Jim. Plato is pretty infatuated with Jim - a man crush, if you will and Jim just wants to make everything work out ("I'm sorry I stepped on the school seal" - not much of a rebel, if you ask me). But, of course, a group of guys lead by Judy's boyfriend Buzz see Jim as the new fish in their pond and decide to give him a rough time, culminating with a "chickie run" - racing two stolen cars toward the edge of a steep cliff, with the first person to jump out being deemed the "chicken".


This was, as I said, a step in the right direction for my experiences with Nicholas Ray. However, I really could've done with three or four steps in that same direction, if I was really going to give Mr. Ray any sort of impacting praise. I would say that the likes and dislikes in this movie, for me, were about equal and that ultimately it was mainly disappointment in a picture that I looked forward to, that lead to my declining opinion. So before I really begin nitpicking (because, lets face it, I'm a fantastic nitpicker), let me just say that it doesn't get much cooler than James Dean, but honestly, the guy was more than cool. He was also a hell of an actor, in my opinion and I consider it a great tragedy that he died so young. Who knows how high his star would've risen. I think he had the chops to really go far and I really wish we had more than three movies to admire him in. Now all I need to do is see "East of Eden" and I'll have seen all of his movies.


The film wasn't bad, by any means, but I wish it would've kept the momentum after that great opening scene at the police station. They used their time really well and despite my little jab at the coincidence of all the teens being there, it was actually a pretty smart way to introduce everyone and get us acquainted with them all. Once we leave the station, in my opinion, the film takes a decline. It seems that after that, everything is leading up to the "chickie run" and once Buzz dies, everything that follows is a result of Buzz dying. SO really, everything is wrapped around that one moment in the film - the death of secondary character. Oh and poor Buzz, who's girlfriend sees him drive a car over a cliff and LATER THAT NIGHT professes her love for Jim! She didn't even give car time to stop smoldering before she was cuddled up next to Jim! And didn't she hate him earlier in the film? See, I'm sorry, but I hate that about older films. The fact that couples fall in love in a matter of seconds - one minute being strangers or even enemies and the next minute running on the beach, watching the stars or holed up under a big tree, in the middle of a park. I just can't stand that melodramatic crap.

I don't know... blame it on a great opening scene, not being followed up on, the required romance between Dean and Wood or the fact that everything in the film really revolved around Buzz's crash, but there was just something that kept me from fully enjoying this film. I wanted to like it and even at the beginning, I thought I was going to. However, things eventually went South and as it is, I'd call it a slightly better than average offering. Plus, teen movies have never really been my thing, be it teens from today or yesterday.

RATING: 6.5/10  Not bad, just disappointing I think. I really was looking forward to this one, having never seen it before and always hearing about it and seeing the "You're tearing me apart!" scene referenced or replayed. Next up for "Ray Week": "Bigger Than Life".


March 14, 2013  3:17pm


  1. I never really got the whole James Dean thing I'm afraid, and, of the three of his, this seems to me the most OTT, and I'm afraid I found him more irritating that sympathetic.

    1. See I liked him here and in "Giant", but in the case of "Rebel", I wish they'd have had a better script for him.


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