Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Rebel Without A Cause, what a depressing film.

The kids are unhappy. Their parents are unable, or unwilling, to help them.

For teens from families with very nice homes - bullying, knife fights, dares, death.

The adults fight, want to avoid problems or skip town for good.

Jim Stark (James Dean) is tired of running. His parents pack up when he hits a rough spot. Stark gets picked up by police for public intoxication in the latest community he calls home. He's not the only one from a supposedly good home who's in trouble with the law.

John 'Plato' Crawford (Sal Mineo) shot puppies. "Nobody can help me," he tells police. His mother is seldom home. Dad is long gone.

Judy (Natalie Wood) wants to be loved by her father, but he doesn't believe in showing affection to his oldest child. He called her "a dirty tramp." She's out in the early morning hours. Police ask if she was seeking company. Is that 1950s speak for soliciting sex?

Stark experiences what appears to be the worst first day of school known in human history. He's not even in the door of his new high school when he's taken to task for walking on the school's emblem. School tough guy Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) and his crew aren't impressed with the new kid. They square off in a knife fight after a visit to a planetarium. A further challenge is given to Stark. Show up for a game of chicken with Buzz using two stolen cars.

The consequences of that dare are far-reaching. Stark wants to come clean with police about what happened. His parents want him to keep his mouth shut. Buzz's buddies figure the new kid has confessed what everyone else wants to keep hush hush. They want revenge. Plato, with his fragile psyche, gets pushed over the edge when he sees a letter from his absent father.

I've heard a lot about this film given it's one of only three features screen legend Dean made.

I wasn't overly impressed. Given Buzz's fate, it seems odd that Judy would want anything to do with Jim - at least for a while. Stark is affected by what happens, but doesn't dwell on the incident. Odd. Police fire more shots at Plato when he goes off the rails than have been discharged in my hometown in the last 30 years.

What grabbed this movie fan was how the parents of each leading youth actor was treated. Frank Stark (Jim Backus) is wearing a frilly woman's apron at one point. This guy can't stand up to his snippy wife Carol (Ann Doran). She in turn faces withering comments from her mother-in-law Mrs. Stark (Virginia Brissac). "It's a zoo (at home)," the young Stark tells police officer Ray Fremick (Edward Platt).
Rebel Without A Cause is filled with angst, anger and rebellion. The teen years still have a lot in common through the generations.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Jim Backus started voicing cartoon character Mr. Magoo in 1949. He was also part of the castaways on Gilligan's Island.

Edward Platt was Chief on television's Get Smart. He was also in two other Hollywood classics - Cape Fear and North By Northwest.
Rebel Without A Cause looks like a career highlight for William Hopper. He had a small role in Stagecoach.

Rebel was Dennis Hopper's film debut.

Ann Doran was a secretary in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

James Dean received Academy Award nominations for best actor for his work in Giant and East of Eden. He was killed in a collision.

Director Nicholas Ray appears in the film's final scene.

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