You’ve waited for it. You’ve longed for it. You’ve pined away the lonely nights praying for it’s return, and here it is: The triumphant return of the Random Movie Review…and this time the Randomatic 3000 has kicked out a genuine classic.
Rebel Without a Cause
Release Date: 27 October 1955
1956 Academy Awards (USA) – Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Sal Mineo (Nominated); Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Natalie Wood (Nominated); Best Writing, Motion Picture Story: Nicholas Ray (Nominated)
1990 National Film Preservation Board (USA) – National Film Registry
So, since it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these I’ll go over the ground rules just in case any of you are new: I pick a movie completely at random using one of several websites that choose random movies, I review it, I assign a rating using my patented MST3K rating system, you read my review, you love it, you comment on it. If you need more gory details about how it works go to this page. Fair enough? Good. Let’s get started.
Like I said, this time my random machine gave me a classic…and one that I had never actually seen it it’s entirety. Of all the major studios that were producing during Hollywood’s Golden Age, Warner Brothers was the one that was most likely to tackle issues. From the gangster movies of the 30s and on, a lot of the WB output was what Law & Order would call “ripped from the headlines.”
Rebel Without a Cause was definitely a part of that WB tradition. It wasn’t the first movie to deal with the juvenile delinquency issue that was thought to be such a big deal in the 50s, in fact it came out after The Blackboard Jungle, but unlike the other movies that set juvenile issues in the city, RWAC was set in the suburbs. They never actually identify the town where it takes place, but it’s clearly the more suburban areas (at least back then) of West Los Angeles.
At the beginning of the story we meet Jim Stark (James Dean) who has just been picked up for being drunk and disorderly. Jim is clearly a troubled teen, he’s new in town and his well-to-do parents have just moved because he got in trouble where they were before. Jim is not the only mixed up youth at the police station this night though, he’s also there with Judy (Natalie Wood) who was out after curfew, and Plato (Sal Mineo) who killed a cat (yikes). Despite a rough beginning, these three would form a pseudo family.
There are so many great scenes and performances in RWAC. Buzz, the leader of the local gang was played by Corey Allen who reminds me of a young Christopher Walken. The chicken scene, with Judy yelling “light ’em up” to start the race, is a classic set piece, and it takes a tragic turn that puts the rest of the movie in Greek Tragedy territory.
RWAC is also notable because the three young leads all died much too young. James Dean of course had the fatal car crash before the movie came out, he was 24. Sal Mineo was fatally stabbed at age 37. Then in 1981 at the age of 43 Natalie Wood drowned near Catalina under circumstances that are still mysterious. It’s a bit heartbreaking to watch James Dean and think about what could have been. He seems to have been a good actor who also had some comedy chops, at one point he mimics Jim Backus’ distinctive voice that we know from Gilligan’s Island and the Mr. Magoo cartoons.
At it’s heart, RWAC is a story about family. The troubled youths long for it, and yet their parents are all inept, distant emotionally, or (in Plato’s case) physically; so they do what people do when they’re unhappy with the family that they’ve been given, they form their own, this was true in the 50s and still is today.
RWAC lives up to it’s classic reputation for the most part. The happy ending seems a bit forced and the acting is a tad overwrought and melodramatic, but that was the style of the time. The attitudes of the characters toward each other is decidedly pre-civil and women’s rights: It’s not easy to hear Jim say that he wishes his hen-pecked father “had the guts to knock Mom cold once. Then maybe she’d be happy and stop picking on him.” Yeah…that would solve everything.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
These quibbles aside, Rebel Without a Cause is worth seeing. On a scale of Dr. Forrester to Joel (Joel being best), I’m giving it a…
I think I’m getting bored with the Random Quote Whore Quote, so I’m going to skip it for now, but here’s the…
Closing Love Theme
Here’s an oldie from The Eagles called… Yeah, you guessed it. James Dean:
A MISPLACED BOY WILL RETURN