Released in 1955, "Rebel without a Cause" is a youth drama about a troubled teen, Jim Stark (James Dean), a new kid on the block in Los Angeles, where he meets other confused mid-50's youths, e.g. Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo). Corey Allen plays Jim's rival, Buzz, while Jim Backus & Ann Doran appear as Jim's parents. Dennis Hopper and Nick Adams are on hand as other juvenile delinquents.
In real life the three protagonists would all die prematurely: Dean one month before the film was released (24 years-old), Natalie in 1981 (43 years old) and Mineo in 1976 (37 years-old). While Dean was 24 during filming, both Natalie and Mineo were actually teenagers, 17 and 16 respectively. This was particularly amazing for the former, as she comes across seasoned, although obviously youthful.
The movie's iconic and seminal, but other teen angst movies predated it, like Brando's "The Wild One," which debuted 20 months before "Rebel." Yet "The Wild One" is lame by comparison. While Brando is almost always great, "Rebel" is less eye-rolling than "The Wild One" and more dramatically engaging, not to mention psychologically interesting. A compelling knife fight pulls the viewer in early on, which culminates with the tragic "chickie run" sequence. Unfortunately, the movie is overly talky with too much filler; it could've been tightened up by cutting like 20-25 minutes.
Writer/director Nicholas Ray interestingly never shows teachers or school faculty, which shows that they're negligible as influences for the confused youths. Notice how the astronomer at the Observatory drones on in a boring monotone. He bleakly insists that life on earth is meaningless in the grand scope of the universe, which ironically is meaningless to the teens, each of whom is the center of the universe, as far as they're concerned. Only their parents, peers and police hold sway in their worlds. The sole adult to really understand them is Officer Ray, clearly named after the writer/director.
One presumptuous critic argued that Plato (Mineo) was a homosexual on the grounds that he "caresses" Jim's shoulder in the Observatory and later invites him to his house where they'd be alone, but Plato's interest in Jim is obviously simply hero worship as Plato looks for a worthy father figure to pattern his life, which Jim literally becomes in the charade with Judy at the deserted mansion (notice how Plato has no problem with Judy's presence). Basically, Plato is to Jim what Barney Rubble was to Fred Flintstone. The "caress" is merely a tap on the shoulder and the fact that it was misinterpreted by this critic informs you about his own dubious sexuality. Mineo's later confessed bisexuality is irrelevant to the topic.
While Dean lacks the intense charisma of Brando, he's inimitable, enigmatic and somewhat interesting. His character, Jim, is surprisingly NOT one-dimensional. Too bad he died so young (breaking his neck in an auto accident).
The picture runs 111 minutes and was shot in Los Angeles & the surrounding areas (Burbank Studios, Santa Monica High School & Calabasas). ADDITIONAL WRITERS: Stewart Stern & Irving Shulman. ADDITIONAL CAST: Marietta Canty appears as Plato's loving black guardian while William Hopper & Rochelle Hudson are on hand as Judy's parents.