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USA 1955
Directed by
Nicholas Ray
111 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Rebel Without A Cause

Like The Wild One (1954), the fame of this, James Dean's best-known film (also with a young Dennis Hopper) endures but there is a good deal more merit to it than in the case of Brando's star-making vehicle.

The screenplay by Stewart Stern tends to be overly emblematic in aligning its characters along the generation gap, and Ray uses the camera and Cinemascope format in typically 1950s ways in order to (melo)dramatize his points about the disconnect between parents and adolescent children (most impressively, in the opening credit sequence, to which the rest of the film is like a lengthy footnote).

At 24 years of age Dean was a little old for the part but he is nevertheless charismatically compelling as Jim, the mixed-up teenager  with Natalie Wood as his girl, Judy, and Sal Mineo as his troubled friend, Plato. Jim Backus makes his most memorable screen appearance (although most people will recognize his voice as that of Mr Magoo) as Jim's emasculated father.

Many commentators have claimed that Plato was intended to be understood as homosexual, something which makes the exchange of the pistol between he and Jim at the film's end quite redolent with implication (both actors were homosexual in real life). Although East Of Eden, released earlier in the same year, was qualitatively a much better showcase for his talents, Dean's death on September 30, 1955 shortly before the film's release, cemented this as the paradigmatic James Dean/alienated youth film.

Its iconic status aside, it is a strong film in its own right, perhaps sociologically-dated but a classic of the period and one which still resonates today. 




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