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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rebel Without a Cause (1955): The James Dean classic

Rebel Without a Cause (released in 1955) is an iconic movie, and hard to believe that the movie is now more than 50 years old. The movie is part of the youth culture now, with the concept of teenager angst being a central theme of the movie, and the phrase 'Rebel without a cause' is an integral a part of normal everyday language. The interesting thing about the origin of the name of this movie was that it was based on the name of a book (Robert M. Lindner's 1944 book, Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath). The name of the movie was taken from the book, but otherwise there is no relation between the storyline of the book and the movie.
James Dean had a very short movie career, only starring in 2 other movies besides this one (Giant, and East of Eden), before dying in a car crash. However, he was incredibly remembered for long, and his portrayal of a young volatile and nervous teenager who is rebellious against his parents and society was a great role.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955): The James Dean classic

The movie portrays the life of teenagers who did not fit into the normal and sugar portrayal of movies of that era, with the movie attempting to take their viewpoint and explaining what makes them rebellious (in sharp contrast to a lot of movies who would try and see how a teenager could be made to see light). The combination of Director Nicholas Ray and screen-writer Stewart Stern scripted a movie that has become 'the' portrayal of youthful angst.
James Dean portrays the role of 17 year old Jim Stark, who moves to Los Angeles along with his parents and enrolls in the local school. He is soon in trouble, brought into the police station for public drunkenness; and soon you realize what one of the motifs of the movie is. His family comes to get him out of the police station, and then you realize that part of what makes him so rebellious is that he does not have a strong father figure - his father and mother frequently quarrel, including in front of Jim. His father bows down many times in such a quarrel, leading to Jim realizing that his father does not have a strong backbone. In the police station, he also meets 2 other characters who are with him through the movie - a 15-year-old boy, John, nick-named Plato (Sal Mineo) who starts to idolize Jim, and Judy (Natalie Wood), who was in the police station for being out after dark.
Judy is a member of the gang of Buzz Gunderson (Cory Allen), somebody whom Jim has an ongoing battle with. In a 'chicken race' with Buzz, where the challenge is to see who first jumps out of a car heading towards a cliff, Buzz gets stuck to the car and goes over the cliff. This experience is unsettling to Jim, but he is unable to get any kind of understanding from his parents when he tries to explain to them. The members of Buzz's gang also start pursuing Jim and Judy (and Plato, who is along with them), and the fight takes a tragic turn when Plato is escaping from the police with a loaded pistol, and is shot by a police officer in self defense.
Originally, Jim's parents think he has been killed, but then realize that he is alive, and this causes a change whereby Jim's father decides to be a better father figure.

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