Review: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

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Rebel Without a Cause

Rebel Without a Cause



Nicholas Ray


Stewart Stern, Irvin Shulman, Nicholas Ray


1h 51m


James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson

MPAA Rating


Basic Plot

A young man is forced to move from town to town by his parents, because he keeps getting in trouble.


It is often a parent’s love that blinds them to the reality they have created. “Rebel Without a Cause” explores this and many other issues relevant to 1950s teens and still find parallels today.

Jim Stark (James Dean) is a trouble young man. We meet him as he is laying on the pavement in a drunken stupor playing with a toy monkey clanging its cymbals over the opening credits. He is taken to the police station where he meets to people that will become important to him.

One is a young woman, Judy (Natalie Wood), who has run away from home because of her parents. She has a reason, but she can’t seem to figure out whether she really wants to stay or go. Another young man, Plato (Sal Mineo), has been brought in with his Nurse (Marietta Canty) because he had stolen a gun from his parents’ bedroom and shot a litter of puppies.

Jim’s problems are a little less apparent. He feels that his parents are moving him because he gets in trouble and can’t make friends, when in reality he’s actually mad at his father (Jim Backus) because he won’t stand up to his mother (Ann Doran).

He is returned to his parents and Detective Ray (Edward Platt) tells him that if he’s ever in a jam to come and talk to him before doing anything rash.

The next day, Jim spies Judy walking down the street and offers to give her a ride to school. She already has a ride with “the kids” and turns him down. Jim keeps trying to get close to her, but she has a boyfriend named Buzz (Corey Allen) who doesn’t seem like the type who would enjoy competition.

It is Jim’s first day at school and he arrives and immediately makes a mistake. While walking towards the entrance, he steps on the school’s seal…an unwritten rule. Someone stops him and lectures him on it and thus begins a long string of bad run-ins with “the kids.”

During a school field trip to the planetarium, Jim makes the mistake of trying to be funny during the presentation and angers “the kids.” Buzz decides that they will wait outside the planetarium for young Jim to exit so they can start a fight.

After an attempt to flee in the opposite direction, “the kids” stop Jim and Buzz get into a knife fight. Jim takes the brunt of it and before the security guards can get there to stop the altercation, Buzz and Jim have a mutual cease-fire. Buzz offers Jim the chance to be one of them by participating in a “chickie run.” Jim agrees, claiming he knows what one is, but has to ask Plato, who has been hanging around him, what it is (It is a two-car race towards a cliff. The first person to jump is the loser).

Chicken. That’s the sole word it takes to get Jim to do something. It is also what helps to get him in trouble. He can’t seem to stay out of it through the entire film, but it’s not all his fault.

“Rebel Without a Cause” is a wonderful film. It epitomizes the genre of lost-youth films. It is well written, directed and acted. Dean proves he is an icon while Wood and Mineo continue to impress. Even though a lot of youth won’t find parallels to their lives today in the film, they are present.

It is hard for some to imagine the fear associated with being “hunted” by a group of punks, simply because they are new or different. Watching this for the first time, I immediately felt a similar parallel to my own life. It was during the scene when “the kids” were waiting for Jim. It was easy to feel the tension, but if you’ve always been part of the in-group, you’d probably never know the experience.

“Rebel” is one of those classic films that defines a generation and will define many to come.

Review Written

February 15, 1999

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