Anthony's Film Review
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Shifting American cultural values and youth issues are portrayed well in this captivating drama...
Some films are classics because they have timeless themes. Others are classics because they are early memorable portrayals of a certain subject matter. Rebel Without a Cause is an example of the latter. It surrounds an issue that continues to play a role in society even today: troubled youth. You do see it in plenty of films. On the other hand, Rebel Without a Cause was brave enough to tackle it in the 1950s, a decade when this problem became quite noticeable.
I like how the film begins at a police station. James Dean plays Jim Stark, a teenager who is found drunk in the street and taken to the station. Natalie Wood is Judy, a girl who ran away from home. Sal Mineo is John "Plato" Crawford, who killed puppies with his mother's gun. Each of these characters speak with Ray Fremick (Edward Platt), who try to reason with the troubled teens as a friend they never had. One reason I like the initial scenes being at a police station is that they introduce the characters.
Another reason I like this setup is because it reminds us of the main underlying factor: the parents. When Jim's parents, Frank and Carol Stark (Jim Backus and Ann Doran, respectively), come to the station to take their son home, Jim explains to Ray that he's upset about his parents and how they argue with each other and pay little attention to their son. Meanwhile, Judy's father had yelled at her because she put on lipstick and got dressed to go out. As for Plato, he too has difficult family issues. All of this portrays a shift in family values that ultimately leaves children all by themselves.
Later, the three main characters go to school. Jim is alone, Judy hangs out with a gang of tough boys, and Plato is not part of the gang but seemed fascinated enough to stand nearby them. The moment these three characters form a friendship seems to be when, during a field trip to a planetarium, one thug challenges Jim to a knife fight. Judy sees how tough Jim can be, and Plato had initially warned Jim about how tough these boys are. This is followed by a scene involving a dangerous stunt with their cars, which acts as the story's turning point.
From there, three different things are happening. One, the three main characters spend time together, including moments at an abandoned mansion near the planetarium. Two, they deal with their emotional parents who clearly have little connection with their children even though they try to. Three, the gang hunts down Jim. Each of these components of the story deliver plenty of good drama, and it all leads to a climax that is riveting and shocking. The shock doesn't just come from one character getting into the worst trouble. It also comes from which character it is.
I shall conclude with this tragic fact. James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo all died before they could ever turn 50. Furthermore, each actor has a scene in Rebel Without a Cause that is related to how they ultimately died in real life. It's sad because I enjoyed their fine performances in this film. They captured the challenges that young people cope with: independence, self-esteem, and peer pressure. This is why I consider Rebel Without a Cause to be a notable film. It had the courage to take on these important issues.
For more information about Rebel Without a Cause, visit the Internet Movie Database.