Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
July 17, 2018 9:20 PM - Subscribe

A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

Senses of Cinema: When asked what the goal of the characters was in Rebel without a Cause (1955), director Nicholas Ray, “normally reticent about articulating his ideas, was ready to reveal the name of the game: look for the father. In one sentence, he told a journalist visiting the set, ‘he fails to provide the adequate father image, either in strength or authority'” (qtd. in Eisenschitz 254). Also present behind the scenes of Rebel was a desire on the parts of James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo to find their own father figures, a desire that became manifest in the characters of Jim, Judy and Plato. Unable to obtain guidance from the imaginary to the symbolic world and lacking paternal attention, Jim, Judy and Plato embark on a psychological quest to find a father figure, leaving behind their dysfunctional families in order to gain entrance into the adult world. This egress, however, comes at a price, and the death of the third party, as characterized by Buzz and Plato, is necessary for Jim and Judy not only to find or act out the role of an ideal parent, but also to complete the journey itself.

Roger Ebert: Because of the way weirdness seems to bubble just beneath the surface of the melodramatic plot, because of the oddness of Dean's mannered acting and Mineo's narcissistic self-pity, because of the cluelessness of the hero's father, because of all of these apparent flaws, "Rebel Without a Cause" has a greater interest than if it had been tidier and more sensible. You can sense an energy trying to break through, emotions unexamined but urgent.

Like its hero, "Rebel Without a Cause" desperately wants to say something and doesn't know what it is. If it did know, it would lose its fascination. More perhaps than it realized, it is a subversive document of its time.


Original reviews: Variety and The Hollywood Review

Hays’d: Decoding the Classics — ‘Rebel Without a Cause’
posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total)
I always feel that Natalie Wood's performance gets short shrift in most considerations of this film - I think she's easily as good as Dean if not better.

Interesting thought from this review: "That being said, it’s also kind of a turkey. Time has not been kind to Rebel Without a Cause. Today it comes off as overwrought and cloyingly melodramatic to the point of ham-fistedness."

I agree, on the surface, but would argue that this statement misses the point somewhat. The film is overwrought and melodramatic AF - and it should be, because it's about being a teenager, which is obviously a state of being... overwrought and melodramatic AF. The film is in this respect is kind of reifying the emotional states of its protagonists - I think it's a conscious choice and one that works. Dean hysteria would look small and silly without it (it flirts with that anyway to be honest) - but the stakes are so real for him, and by default us, that it propels the drama forward and helps us care.
posted by smoke at 12:04 AM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Leonard Rosenman's 1st wife was a dear friend of the family.

I've read that preview audiences snickered when Jim hits the desk but didn't as much after the music was added.
posted by brujita at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2018

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