Rebel Without a Cause

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Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel without a cause432.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by David Weisbart
Screenplay by Stewart Stern
Irving Shulman (adaptation)
Story by Nicholas Ray
Starring James Dean
Natalie Wood
Sal Mineo
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by William Ziegler
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • October 27, 1955 (1955-10-27)
[citation needed]
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.5 million
Box office $4,500,000 (US rentals)[1]

Rebel Without a Cause is a 1955 American drama film about emotionally confused suburban, middle-class teenagers. The film stars James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.

Directed by Nicholas Ray, it offered both social commentary and an alternative to previous films depicting delinquents in urban slum environments.[2][3] Over the years, the film has achieved landmark status for the acting of cultural icon James Dean, fresh from his Academy Award nominated role in East of Eden and who died before the film's release, in his most celebrated role. This was the only film during Dean's lifetime in which he received top billing. In 1990, Rebel Without a Cause was added to the preserved films of the United States Library of Congress's National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant".

The story of a rebellious teenager who arrives at a new high school, meets a girl, disobeys his parents, and defies the local school bullies was a groundbreaking attempt to portray the moral decay of American youth, critique parental style, and explore the differences and conflicts between generations. The title was adopted from psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner's 1944 book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. The film itself, however, does not reference Lindner's book in any way.

Warner Bros. released the film on October 27, 1955, less than one month after Dean's fatal car crash. Mineo died in 1976 and Wood in 1981, both also at young ages.


Jim Stark is in police custody.
Jim confronts his father while his mother watches.

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles with his parents, seventeen-year-old Jim Stark (James Dean) enrolls at Dawson High School. He is brought into the police station for public drunkenness, and when his mother, father, and grandmother arrive at the police station to retrieve him, conflicts in Jim's family situation are introduced. His parents are often fighting; his father (Jim Backus) often tries to defend him, but Jim's mother always wins the arguments. Jim feels betrayed both by this fighting and his father's lack of moral strength, causing feelings of unrest and displacement. This shows up later in the film when he repeatedly asks his father, "What do you do when you have to be a man?"

While trying to conform with fellow students at the school, he becomes involved in a dispute with a local bully named Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen). While he tries to deal with Buzz, he becomes friends with a 15-year-old boy, John, nicknamed Plato (Sal Mineo), who was also at the police station the same night as Jim. Plato idolizes Jim, his real father having abandoned his family, and experiences many of the same problems as Jim, such as searching for meaning in life and dealing with parents who "don't understand". Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), whom he also recognizes from the police station, where she was brought in for being out alone after dark. She originally seems unimpressed by Jim, saying in a sarcastic tone, "I bet you're a real yo-yo."

Jim goes on a school field trip to the Griffith Observatory. There he sees a dramatic presentation of the violent death of the universe. After the show, he watches as the thugs slash a tire of his car; then Buzz challenges him to a knife fight, in which Jim is loathe to take part until the gang taunts him as a "chicken" (coward). He reluctantly takes part in the fight and wins, subduing Buzz by holding his switchblade up to his neck. Both Jim and Buzz receive slight injuries while fighting. The thugs challenge Jim to a "Chickie Run" with Buzz later that day, racing stolen cars towards an abyss. The first one who jumps out of the car loses and is deemed the "chicken". The "game" ends in tragedy for Buzz when a strap on the sleeve of his leather jacket gets stuck on the car's door handle, preventing him from jumping out before the car goes over the cliff.

Jim tells his parents what happened, but becomes frustrated and storms out of the house when they oppose his plans to confess his involvement to the police. When Jim is seen trying to go to the police by some of Buzz's friends, they decide to hunt him down, and harass Plato and Jim's family to try to find him. Judy and Jim go to an abandoned mansion; Plato finds them there, as he was the one who originally told Jim about the house. There they act out a "fantasy family", with Jim as father, Judy as mother and Plato as child. The thugs soon discover them, and Plato brandishes his mother's gun, shooting one of the boys, and shooting at Jim and a police officer, in a clearly unstable state.

Plato hides in the Observatory, which is soon besieged by the police. Jim and Judy follow him inside, and Jim convinces Plato to lend him the gun, from which he silently removes the ammunition magazine. When Plato steps out of the observatory, he becomes agitated again at the sight of the police and charges forward, brandishing his weapon. He is fatally shot by a police officer as Jim yells to the police, too late, that he has already removed the bullets. Plato is wearing Jim's jacket at the time, and as a result, Jim's parents (brought to the scene by police) think at first that Jim was shot. Mr. Stark then runs to comfort Jim, openly weeping for Plato's death, and promises to be a stronger father, one that his son can depend on. Thus reconciled, Jim introduces Judy to his parents.



Warner Brothers had bought the rights to Linder's book, intending to use the title for a film. Attempts to create a film version in the late 1940s eventually ended without a film or even a full script being produced. When Marlon Brando did a five-minute screen test for the studio in 1947, he was given fragments of one of the 1940s partial scripts. However, Brando was not auditioning for Rebel Without a Cause and there was no offer of any part made by the studio. The film, as it later appeared, was the result of a totally new script written in the 1950s that had nothing to do with the Brando test. The screen test is included on a 2006 special edition DVD of the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire.

According to a Natalie Wood biography, she almost did not get the role of Judy because Nicholas Ray thought that she did not seem fit for the role of the wild teen character. While on a night out with friends, she got into a car accident. Upon hearing this, Ray rushed to the hospital. While in delirium, Wood overheard the doctor murmuring and calling her a "goddamn juvenile delinquent"; she soon yelled to Ray, "Did you hear what he called me, Nick?! He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! Now do I get the part?!"[4][5]

Dawson High School, the school in the film, was actually Santa Monica High School, located in Santa Monica, California.

Irving Shulman, who adapted Nicholas Ray's initial film story into the screenplay, had considered changing the name of James Dean's character to Herman Deville, according to Jurgen Muller's "Movies of the '50s". He had also originally written a number of scenes that were shot and later cut from the final version of the film. According to an AFI interview with Stewart Stern, with whom Shulman worked on the screenplay, one of the scenes was thought to be too emotionally provocative to be included in the final print of the film. It portrayed the character of Jim Stark inebriated to the point of belligerence screaming at a car in the parking lot, "It's a little jeep jeep! Little jeep, jeep!" The scene was considered unproductive to the story's progression by head editor William H. Ziegler and ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor. In 2006, members of the Lincoln Film Society petitioned to have the scene printed and archived for historical preservation.

The film was in production from March 28 to May 25, 1955. When production began, Warner Bros. considered it a B-movie project, and Ray used black and white film stock. When Jack Warner realized James Dean was a rising star and a hot property, filming was switched to color stock and many scenes had to be reshot in color.

The 1949 Mercury Coupe James Dean drove in the movie is part of the permanent collection at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.


The film received accolades for its story and for the performance of James Dean and the young stars who appeared, among them teenagers Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper, along with Nick Adams and Corey Allen.

The film holds a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

Awards and accolades[edit]



American Film Institute recognition

Empire magazine recognition

  • Ranked 477th on list of the 500 greatest movies of all time in 2008.[7]

Cultural influence[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Television and film[edit]

  • In The Simpsons episode, "Take My Wife, Sleaze", a parody of Rebel Without a Cause became an inspiration for Homer Simpson to form his motorcycle gang, even though he watched it with his vintage 1955 Harley-Davidson motorcycle he won at a '50s nostalgia cafe earlier in this episode.
  • In The Sopranos episode, "Big Girls Don't Cry", Christopher Moltisanti's acting instructor assigns Chris and several classmates—whom she terms "rebels without causes"—to enact the scene wherein Plato dies and Jim cries over his friend's body. The scene (which evoked in Christopher feelings about his alcoholic mother, Joanne Blundetto Moltisanti, and deceased father, Richard (Dickie) Moltisanti) touched Christopher so deeply that it inspired him to cry (and to later punch the student who played Jim's father in the scene) and his emotionally true acting impressed Christopher's teacher and classmates.
  • In Terrence Malick's film Badlands (1973), various characters note that the lead character reminds them of James Dean. The lead characters in Badlands—Kit and Holly (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek)—mildly echo those of Jim Stark and Judy (Dean and Woods). A Mercury Eight also appears in the film.
  • The movie Cool As Ice is supposed to be a remake of Rebel Without a Cause.
  • In the show Futurama, the outfit of Philip J. Fry is based on Jim's outfit.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Prehibernation Week", SpongeBob says, "They're tearing me apart." in reference to the games that he and Sandy had been playing. This is a reference to Jim's line, "You're tearing me apart," when Jim's parents are arguing at the police station and have different opinions about Jim.
  • In the Space Goofs episode Rebel Without a Brain came from a movie title of the same name.
  • In the 1983 film Christine, the character of Arnold "Arnie" Cunningham is intended to gradually resemble James Dean's character throughout the film, particularly his hair and trademark red jacket. This may be due in part to the urban legend of Dean also owning a haunted car.
  • The Looney Tunes Show episode "Rebel Without a Glove" came from the movie title. In this episode, Bugs Bunny loses his gloves, and has to substitute biker gloves for them, only to realize that with the change in his gloves, his personality changes and he becomes a rebel.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode, "Kryten", Kryten lists Rebel Without a Cause as one of the movies Lister had him watch to break his programming, stop obeying orders, and rebel against Rimmer.
  • In the movie Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), the line "You say one thing, she says another, and it all changes back again" is taken from the scene in Rebel Without a Cause where Jim Stark confronts his parents in the police station.
  • Tommy Wiseau uttered the phrase you are tearing me apart in his drama film The Room, in reference and as an homage to James Dean's role. Originally, the line was "You are taking me apart", because of Tommy Wiseau's seemingly poor understanding of the English language and also because of his unwillingness to admit that he had taken the line from James Dean.
  • 'Rebel was also an influential film for Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo.
  • In Seed Of Chucky Glen yells "You're tearing me apart!" at his fighting parents.


  • In 1995 Nonesuch Records issued an album of music from both East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by John Adams.
  • The German musician Prinz Pi's album Rebell ohne Grund (2011) is named after Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Rap Group Public Enemy made a song called "Rebel Without a Pause".
  • Bonnie Tyler in 1986 made a song called "Rebel Without a Clue".
  • The Bellamy Brothers in 1988 made a song called "Rebels Without a Clue".
  • Rap-rock artist Kid Rock named his 1998 album "Devil Without a Cause".
  • The 1991 Paula Abdul video "Rush, Rush" features a street race and co-stars Keanu Reeves, drawing stylistic inspiration from Rebel Without A Cause, and as such, has a period theme. A 90-second dramatic prelude to the song rather mirrors the characters from the film.
  • The phrase "Rebel without a clue" also occurs in the 1989 song "I'll Be You" by The Replacements, which inspired Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to include it onto their 1991 song "Into the Great Wide Open".
  • Track 5 on the Every Time I Die album, The Big Dirty, is named "Rebel Without Applause".
  • Locnville made a song named "James Dean".
  • Joni Mitchell included clips from Rebel Without a Cause in her concert film, Shadows and Light, recorded in 1979 and released in 1980.
  • Shenandoah mentions Dean and Wood in the song "I Want to Be Loved Like That". The beginning of the song states: "Natalie Wood gave her heart to James Dean/ High school rebel and a teenage queen/ Standing together in an angry world/ One boy fighting for one girl."
  • The 1971 hit single American Pie contains the lyrics "When the Jester sang for the King and Queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean", widely believed to be a reference to the red jacket worn by Dean's character in the film, and an allusion to the windbreaker worn by Bob Dylan on the cover of his 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan".[8]
  • In the Marilyn Manson song "Mutilation Is The Most Sincere Form Of Flattery" from his 2007 album "Eat Me, Drink Me" is the line "Rebels Without Applause"
  • In the song "Constipation" by Black Hippy, [9] says "Rebel without a cause".



  1. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  2. ^ Variety film review; October 26, 1955, page 6.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; October 22, 1955, page 170.
  4. ^ Finstead, Susan (2009). Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood. Random House. p. 176. ISBN 9780307428660. Retrieved July 11, 2014.  Latest Wood biography.
  5. ^ Higgins, Bill. "How Natalie Wood Seduced Her Way Into 'Rebel Without a Cause'". The Hollywood Reporter (December 2, 2011). Retrieved July 11, 2014.  Tells of the quote being from 1974 interview.
  6. ^ "Rebel Without a Cause". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  7. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  8. ^ Robert Fontenot. "The "American Pie" FAQ -- What's the meaning of Verse 3 ("Now for ten years we've been on our own")?". About. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  9. ^ Kendrick Lamar


External links[edit]