As Warner Bros. continues celebrating its 100th anniversary, the studio has now released Rebel Without a Cause on 4K Ultra HD.
“You’re tearing me apart!” – Jim Stark (James Dean)
It’s hard to imagine what sort of career James Dean would have had after the release of Rebel Without a Cause. We’ll never knw because of his tragic death in a car crash one month prior to the release. Much like Natalie Wood or Sal Mineo’s careers, it’s one of those what if’s. All three actors are absolutely perfect in the film–both Wood and Mineo would earn Oscar nominations for their supporting roles. In any event, Dean was on a hot streak between this film and his Oscar-nominated performance in East of Eden.
After Jim Stark is taken into police custody, we also meet Judy (Natalie Wood) and John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo). Neither come from a slum background but that doesn’t stop them from having issues with their parents at home. Anyway, something caught my eye in this viewing that I didn’t think about in early 2019. Why does Inspector Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) look so familiar? It turns out that he’s the same actor who plays Chief in Get Smart!
Griffith Observatory turns out to be the film’s biggest set piece. It’s where the Dawson High students go on a field trip and where Jim challenges gang leader Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen). Ultimately, it’s the same location where the police kill Plato. There’s another set piece where Jim confronts his parents, Frank (Jim Backus) and Carol (Ann Doran). They had to film this a few times but it really shows how Jim feels about his parents at this point in the film.
Nicholas Ray knew what the studio didn’t initially accept: middle-class teens were just as delinquent as those teens in the lower class. The studio wanted Leon Uris to write the script but Ray didn’t agree with him. Irving Shulman was next and then ultimately, Stewart Stern. If not for Stern coming on board, this film wouldn’t be the classic that it is today. Meanwhile, the studio shifted production from black and white photography to the beautiful colors in widescreen CinemaScope. It meant changing wardrobe and everything! I think it would still be a beautiful picture in black and white but the anamorphic CinemaScope lensing changes the film for the best.
There have been many films about teenagers over the years and all of them have captured a generation in time. The thing about the mid-1950s was that American society was also changing with the differences between the Interbellum and Silent/Traditionalist generations. Post-World War II brought about a subculture of delinquent youth. While James Dean and Natalie Wood were breaking out as stars on the big screen, Elvis was becoming a legend in the musical scene. And yet, all of this was leading up to the cultural change looming as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s. It doesn’t surprise me at all that there were towns banning the film in theaters. It also speaks to the shift in the Production Code, too. If not for the Production Code, Plato Crawford’s sexuality would probably have been more defined in the film.
The film’s only AFI honor was in its initial 100 Years, 100 Movies listings at #59. It would drop off altogether when the tenth anniversary list was announced. Regardless, it’s a milestone in cinematic history. Moreover, the knife fight outside of Griffith Observatory remains an iconic scene. In fact, there is a James Dean bust not too far away from where it was filmed. All in all, it’s a shame that Nicholas Ray’s direction wasn’t nominated by the Academy, only his screen story.
Rebel Without a Cause has withstood the test of time and remains one of the best films about teenagers in cinematic history.
- Commentary Douglas L. Rathgeb
- James Dean Remembered (1974 TV special)
- Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents (featurette)
- Dennis Hopper: Memories from the Warner Lot (featurette)
- Screen Tests
- Wardrobe Tests
- Deleted Scenes
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Ray
SCREENWRITER: Stewart Stern
CAST: James Dean, Natalie Wood, with Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper
Warner Bros. released Rebel Without a Cause in theaters on October 27, 1955. Grade: 4.5/5
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