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 H. 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 Oscar 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 Library of Congress's National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant".

The film 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.

Plot[edit]

Jim Stark is in police custody.

Behind the opening credits, the film opens on a suburban Los Angeles street with teenager Jim Stark (Dean) drunkenly lying down on a sidewalk. He is later dragged into the juvenile division of the police station for "plain drunkenness". At the station he meets John "Plato" Crawford (Mineo), who was brought in for shooting a litter of puppies with his mother's gun, and Judy (Wood), who was brought in for curfew violation (she was wearing a bright red dress with matching lipstick and was mistaken for being a streetwalker). The three each separately reveal their frustrations to officers; all three of them suffer from problems at home:

  • Jim feels betrayed and anguished by his constantly bickering parents, Frank (Jim Backus) and Carol (Ann Doran), but even more so by Frank's milquetoast attitude and failure to stand up to Carol and her mother, who lives with them. His frustrations are made manifest to officer Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) when Jim is released to their custody.
  • Judy is convinced that her father (William Hopper) has callously withdrawn his affections from her because she's no longer a little girl, so she dresses up in racy clothes to get attention, which only causes her father to call her a "dirty tramp".
  • Plato comes from a broken family. His father abandoned them when he was a toddler, and his mother is often away from home, leaving Plato in the care of her housekeeper.

Jim sets out for his first day at Dawson High School and again meets Judy (who lives nearby) waiting on the corner and offers her a ride. Seemingly unimpressed by Jim at first, she declines and sarcastically says, "You know, I bet you're a real yo-yo," and then is picked up by her "friends", a gang of delinquents led by "Buzz" Gunderson (Corey Allen). Arriving at school, Jim immediately gets in hot water for unknowingly stepping on the school insignia. While shunned by most of the student body, Jim befriends Plato, who comes to idolize him as a father figure. That afternoon, Jim's class goes on a field trip to the Griffith Observatory, where they see a dramatic presentation of the bleak future of the Earth as the Sun goes through its red giant phase and post red-giant phase. As he walks out, Buzz and his gang slash one of Jim's tires and then begin taunting him by clucking and calling him "chicken", which is sure to set him off. When Jim asks Judy, revealed to be the "property" of Buzz, why she hangs around with them, Buzz pushes Jim away from her, then whips out a switchblade and challenges Jim to a knife fight. Having no knife, Jim refuses, so Buzz orders one of his gang to lend Jim his knife, but even then Jim still refuses. When Buzz again calls Jim chicken he goes off, and the two begin fighting, each one getting minor jabs on the other until Jim knocks Buzz' knife away and subdues him. Buzz wants another shot at Jim, which he accepts but not with knives. Buzz suggests stealing a couple of cars to have a "Chickie Run (Game of Chicken)" at Millertown Bluff, a high seaside cliff. Jim agrees to meet them that evening before the observatory security guard runs the gang off. After they leave, Jim asks Plato what a Chickie Run is.

At home, before leaving for the Chickie Run, Jim ambiguously asks Frank for advice about defending one's honor in a risky, dangerous situation. But Frank, dressed in a frilly apron and doing housework while Carol is sick in bed, instead gives Jim a long-winded speech about avoiding confrontation of any kind. Jim changes his clothes and drives to Millertown Bluff. Buzz shows him the two stolen cars they'll be racing, and then go to the edge of the cliff alone and share a cigarette, where Buzz confides in Jim that he likes him. When Jim asks Buzz why they're doing the run, Buzz replies "You gotta do something, now don't you?". Meanwhile, Judy asks Plato about Jim; though they barely know one another, Plato calls Jim his best friend. When Judy asks what Jim is like Plato merely replies "You have to get to know him," but adds that people Jim likes most get to call him "Jamie". As they prepare to race, Buzz explains the rules: the two are to race toward the edge of the cliff, and whoever jumps out of their car first is declared the "chicken". As the two cars speed toward the cliff, Jim tumbles out of his car, but Buzz' jacket sleeve gets caught on his door handle, preventing him from jumping out before both cars plummet to the rocky shores below. The rest of the gang flee leaving Judy stranded, but Jim, with Plato in tow, gives Judy a ride home, giving her back the purse mirror she left at the police station. Still with Plato along, Jim drives home. Plato then asks Jim if he would like to go with him up to an old abandoned mansion near the Observatory and stay there for the night, but Jim declines and sends him home, but not before Plato writes down Jim's address in his pocket notebook.

Jim confronts his father while his mother watches.

Jim tells Frank and Carol about his involvement in the crash, which they saw on a TV newscast earlier. Jim then tells them he's going to do something right for a change and turn himself in to the police, but Frank and Carol warn him not to volunteer himself. When Carol declares they're moving again, Jim asserts that he won't let her use him as an excuse to keep running away. Jim then begs Frank to stand up with him against her, but he doesn't. Jim angrily jumps and strangles Frank until he is pulled away by Carol. He storms off to the police station and is accosted by Buzz' fellow gang members Crunch (Frank Mazzola), Goon (Dennis Hopper) and Moose (Jack Grinnage) who were just released from custody. Jim ignores them and goes in looking for Fremick, but the desk sergeant rudely tells him that Fremick will be out all night. Before leaving, Jim tries to call Judy at her home, but the call is intercepted by her father who abruptly hangs up.

Jim drives back home and finds Judy waiting at the same spot where they met that morning (she greets him with "Hello, Jamie"). When Jim reveals he was attracted to her from the moment he saw her (and even gently kisses the side of her forehead), Judy apologizes for the way she treated Jim that morning, blaming peer pressure, and the two begin to fall for one another. Agreeing that they will never go back to their respective homes, Jim suggests they go to the mansion Plato told him about saying, "You can trust me, Judy."

Meanwhile, Plato is just arriving home on his motor scooter when he is grabbed by Crunch, Goon and Moose. Convinced that Jim ratted them out to the police, and looking to avenge Buzz' death, they demand to know where they can find Jim, but Plato refuses to talk. They grab Plato's pocket notebook as he gets to the front door and run off. Plato runs upstairs to his bedroom and, after throwing away a child support check from his father, grabs his mother's gun and runs off to find and warn Jim. At Jim's house Frank and Carol hear knocking at the front door. Frank answers to find a live chicken hanging over their door, and Buzz' friends asking about Jim, but Frank hurriedly shuts the door. After they take off, Plato shows up for the same reason, but when Frank asks Plato about Jim, Plato quickly apologizes and hurries off to the mansion where he finds Jim and Judy.

The three new friends act out a fantasy as a family, and Plato tells them about when the "head shrink" got him to open up about hearing his parents fight when he was a baby, and how his mother later decided the money being spent on his therapy was better spent going off alone to Hawaii. Wishing they could stay there, but unable to ignore his situation, Plato decides he "might as well be dead anyway" and lies down to doze. Judy hums the Brahms' Lullaby to him before she and Jim go exploring the rest of the mansion. Crunch, Goon and Moose, now armed with chains, find their way to the mansion and wake up Plato. Frightened and distraught, Plato fights them off until he finds his gun and shoots Moose, and then mistakenly fires at Jim when he comes back. Jim tries to restrain Plato, but he breaks free and runs from the mansion, shooting at police who have just arrived.

Plato runs to the Observatory and barricades himself inside as more police converge including Fremick who, with Frank and Carol, was out looking for Jim. Jim and Judy follow Plato into the observatory, and Jim persuades Plato to trade the gun for his red jacket; Jim silently removes the ammo clip before giving it back. Jim then convinces Plato to come outside after asking Fremick to turn the police lights off. As they start to come out the police notice Plato still has the gun and turn their lights back on, which incites Plato to break away and charge the police. When he is shot down, Jim screams, "I got the bullets!! Look!!" Seeing Jim's jacket, Frank believes at first that Jim had been shot. He runs to comfort the openly grieving Jim, and promises to try and be a stronger father, one that Jim can depend on. Now reconciled to his parents, Jim introduces them to Judy saying "She's my friend".

As dawn encroaches, and as everyone leaves in their respective cars, a lone figure in a business suit with briefcase walks toward the Observatory, completely unaware of what just transpired.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

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 L. 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.

Reception[edit]

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]

The film was banned in New Zealand in 1955 by Chief Censor Gordon Mirams, out of fears that it would incite 'teenage delinquency', only to be released on appeal the following year with scenes cut out.[7] In Britain, the film was released with an X-rating with scenes cut.[8]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Wins

Nominations

American Film Institute recognition

Empire magazine recognition

  • Ranked 477th on list of the 500 greatest movies of all time in 2008.[9]

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.
  • Director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, From Dusk Til Dawn) entitled his 1996 memoir about breaking into the film industry "Rebel Without A Crew."

Music[edit]

  • 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".[10]
  • 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,[11] says "Rebel without a cause".
  • The Bruce Springsteen song "Cadillac Ranch" mentions James Dean's 1949 Mercury coupe.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  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. ^ "History of Censorship: 1955 - Rebel Without a Cause". NZ Office of Film & Literature Classification. 
  8. ^ Roya Nikkhah (2009-06-21). "To cut or not to cut – a censor's dilemma". Daily Telegraph. 
  9. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empireonline.com. 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Kendrick Lamar

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]