Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

rebel without a cause poster 1955 movie james dean
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Cool factor, great cast, weird character dynamics


Movie Info

Movie Name:  Rebel Without a Cause

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  October 27, 1955

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

rebel without a cause griffith observatory james dean knife fight

I can’t remember how many knife fights we’d get in as wacky kids

Jim Stark (James Dean) sees his life in a tailspin.  He and his parents have just moved to a new town and he can’t seem to fit in with the other kids.  Judy (Natalie Wood) was once “Daddy’s Little Girl” and now it seems like he can’t look at her.  John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo) is being raised by his nanny (Marietta Canty) and is severely unbalanced due to his parents’ lack of involvement.  When Jim, Judy, and Plato meet they form a sort of damaged family…but the new family might be more dangerous than their own families.

Directed by Nicholas Ray, Rebel Without a Cause adapts the psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner’s study Rebel Without a Cause:  The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath from 1944.  The film was released to critical acclaim and helped cement James Dean as a cultural icon (Dean died before the release of the film in a car accident).  The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo), Best Supporting Actress (Natalie Wood) and Best Story.

rebel without a cause drag racing james dean natalie wood sal mineo

Step back from the ledge, Judy…all three of us have long happy lives ahead of us…or not

Growing up, Rebel Without a Cause seems like it is going to be an edgy “bad boys” type of movie, but the title is a misnomer…the impression given by the movie is not what the movie is about.  While the bullies of the film might be “bad boys”, James Dean’s Jim Stark really isn’t that edgy or bad…but he gets caught up in a bad situation.  The result is a strange, strange movie that is extremely watchable.

Rebel Without a Cause is strange because it really is about parents’ failures and kids being forced to raise themselves…everything that happens in the movie is almost the parents’ fault.  You have Dean’s character wishing his father was more of a man (with Mr. Howell  cowering in a floral apron and worried he isn’t cleaning enough),  Wood’s character has this weird sexual tension with her father who is almost abusive due to her sexuality, and Mineo’s character whose desire for a family creates this weird sexual triangle with Dean and Wood (who he’s jealous of).  It is really messed up and makes the movie a fun movie to try to break down characters.

rebel without a cause jim backus apron

Poor emasculated Jim Backus looks cute in his floral print

The cast is top notch.  The acting style is different than today’s acting style (more overblown), but it works in the context of the script.  Dean was such a rising start and showed a ton of potential before his death in this role and his other two roles…he was acting way above his age.  Mineo’s sensitive Plato is interesting in that it is obviously an early gay character (or at least extremely confused character) in a big screen role.  Wood is a charmer in the movie who can’t decide if she wants to be an adult or a kids though it does take a while for her to side with the “good guys”.  Growing up watching Gilligan’s Island, it is sometimes hard to get past that with Jim Backus, and the movie features a small role by Dennis Hopper as one of the bullies.

rebel without a cause sal mineo james dean natalie wood

Yep…our futures are all ahead of us guys!

The movie is set in the Hollywood area and makes great use of the Griffith Park Observatory for both the field trip and the ending scene.  This gives the planetarium a “cool factor” and made it a destination for fans of Dean and the film.  A bust of Dean was erected at the observatory that makes a visit worthwhile.

Rebel Without a Cause is a must.  It has that cool factor with James Dean and the imagery it evokes, but it wins because it isn’t a cut-and-dry movie.  The film raises a lot of issues and doesn’t necessarily resolve them since there aren’t any easy answers.  Check out Rebel Without a Cause…unlike The Room’s “You’re tearing me apart”, you actually feel James Dean’s pain when he yells it.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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