Rebel Without a Cause


Rebel Without a Cause

Critics Consensus

Rebel Without a Cause is a searing melodrama featuring keen insight into '50s juvenile attitude and James Dean's cool, iconic performance.



Total Count: 49


Audience Score

User Ratings: 58,482
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Movie Info

This landmark juvenile-delinquent drama scrupulously follows the classic theatrical disciplines, telling all within a 24-hour period. Teenager Jimmy Stark (James Dean) can't help but get into trouble, a problem that has forced his appearance-conscious parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran) to move from one town to another. The film's tormented central characters are all introduced during a single night-court session, presided over by well-meaning social worker Ray (Edward Platt). Jimmy, arrested on a drunk-and-disorderly charge, screams "You're tearing me apart!" as his blind-sided parents bicker with one another over how best to handle the situation. Judy (Natalie Wood) is basically a good kid but behaves wildly out of frustration over her inability to communicate with her deliberately distant father (William Hopper). (The incestuous subtext of this relationship is discreetly handled, but the audience knows what's going on in the minds of Judy and her dad at all times.) And Plato (Sal Mineo), who is so sensitive that he threatens to break apart like porcelain, has taken to killing puppies as a desperate bid for attention from his wealthy, always absent parents. The next morning, Jimmy tries to start clean at a new high school, only to run afoul of local gang leader Buzz (Corey Allen), who happens to be Judy's boyfriend. Anxious to fit in, Jimmy agrees to settle his differences with a nocturnal "Chickie Run": he and Buzz are to hop into separate stolen cars, then race toward the edge of a cliff; whoever jumps out of the car first is the "chickie." When asked if he's done this sort of thing before, Jimmy lies, "That's all I ever do." This wins him the undying devotion of fellow misfit Plato. At the appointed hour, the Chickie Run takes place, inaugurated by a wave of the arms from Judy. The cars roar toward the cliff; Jimmy is able to jump clear, but Buzz, trapped in the driver's set when his coat gets caught on the door handle, plummets to his death. In the convoluted logic of Buzz' gang, Jimmy is held responsible for the boy's death. For the rest of the evening, he is mercilessly tormented by Buzz' pals, even at his own doorstep. After unsuccessfully trying to sort things out with his weak-willed father, Jimmy runs off into the night. He links up with fellow "lost souls" Judy and Plato, hiding out in an abandoned palatial home and enacting the roles of father, mother, and son. For the first time, these three have found kindred spirits -- but the adults and kids who have made their lives miserable haven't given up yet, leading to tragedy. Out of the bleakness of the finale comes a ray of hope that, at last, Jimmy will be truly understood. Rebel Without a Cause began as a case history, written in 1944 by Dr. Robert Lindner. Originally intended as a vehicle for Marlon Brando, the property was shelved until Brando's The Wild One (1953) opened floodgates for films about crazy mixed-up teens. Director Nicholas Ray, then working on a similar project, was brought in to helm the film version. His star was James Dean, fresh from Warners' East of Eden. Ray's low budget dictated that the new film be lensed in black-and-white, but when East of Eden really took off at the box office, the existing footage was scrapped and reshot in color. This was great, so far as Ray was concerned, inasmuch as he had a predilection for symbolic color schemes. James Dean's hot red jacket, for example, indicated rebellion, while his very blue blue jeans created a near luminescent effect (Ray had previously used the same vivid color combination on Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar). As part of an overall bid for authenticity, real-life gang member Frank Mazzola was hired as technical advisor for the fight scenes. To extract as natural a performance as possible from Dean, Ray redesigned the Stark family's living room set to resemble Ray's own home, where Dean did most of his rehearsing. Speaking of interior sets, the mansion where the three troubled teens hide out had previously been seen as the home of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Of the reams of on-set trivia concerning Rebel, one of the more amusing tidbits involves Dean's quickie in-joke impression of cartoon character Mr. Magoo -- whose voice was, of course, supplied by Jim Backus, who played Jimmy's father. Viewing the rushes of this improvisation, a clueless Warner Bros. executive took Dean to task, saying in effect that if he must imitate an animated character, why not Warners' own Bugs Bunny? Released right after James Dean's untimely death, Rebel Without a Cause netted an enormous profit. The film almost seems like a eulogy when seen today, since so many of its cast members -- James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Nick Adams -- died young. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Rebel Without a Cause

All Critics (49) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (47) | Rotten (2)

Audience Reviews for Rebel Without a Cause

  • Aug 12, 2017
    Some things in the movie may not have aged that well, but it still pulses with youthful energy and impresses with the psychological complexity of its characters - and it should always be remembered for James Dean's iconic looks and performance that spoke to a generation.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Nov 29, 2016
    James Dean was killed in a car accident at the age of 24 just a month before 'Rebel Without a Cause' was released, and that tragedy, along with his electric performance of teenage angst in the film, would seal his legend. There are several iconic scenes early on that show his ability - imitating the siren at the police station after being picked up for public drunkenness, yelling "you're tearing me apart!" as his parents argue, and a scene with Natalie Wood, who rebuffs him initially, mocking him by saying "I bet you're a real gentleman", and him responding "I love you too". He is the new kid at their school, the outsider, the misfit, whose parents don't understand him. The film taps into this sense of teenage isolation, and there is clearly a plea to be listened to, loved, and understood. It also taps into a feeling of existentialism, of meaninglessness on a larger scale, with an outstanding scene in the planetarium where Dean's class listen to the lecturer say " the infinite reaches of space, the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed. And man, existing alone, seems himself an episode of little consequence." Wood looks up into the projection of the stars, while Dean frowns as if Camus himself. As the film plays out, we see Wood has problems with her parents too - her dad, apparently uncomfortable with her budding sexuality, slaps her across the face for giving him a kiss as she would have when smaller. Their other friend, a repressed gay character played by Sal Mineo, has parents who are absent entirely, with devastating results. Dean is provoked into a knife fight at one point, and then into a frightening game of 'Chickie Run', with drivers meant to jump out of their cars speeding towards the edge of a cliff at the last minute. It's an idiotic game, but that's what young people do sometimes, idiotic things, and a classic line has Dean asking 'Why do we do this?', and the other boy, played by Corey Allen, responding, "You've gotta do something, don't you?" In the aftermath of Allen's character dying, the film spirals in ways which seem a bit exaggerated. It's still well worth watching for its themes and actors, Wood, Mineo, and most of all Dean, who is like a young Brando, full of screen presence, full of promise. He's great in scenes of angst, but also in those with spontaneous banter and play. 1950's cool, still cool today.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Dec 01, 2015
    While "Rebel Without a Cause" has a very familiar story, with predictable climax's and obvious character arcs, this James Dean film is not one to miss. Embracing all of these well-known story elements and creating a fresh take on this genre is really what this film does best. I will say that the film begins to drag slightly about halfway through, but aside from that, this is a very well-crafted drama that any film fan should love. Moving to a new town with his family, Jim Stark must choose which clique to fit in with, and whom be believes to be the cool crowd, turns out to have much more to hide. Falling in love with a girl from that same group, this film shows how bad can come from good and vice versa. I had a great time watching "Rebel Without a Cause." it is extremely well-written, well-acted, well-directed, and very well-shot. Great film all around.
    KJ P Super Reviewer
  • Apr 26, 2013
    Some of its charm and sympathy endure to this day, but Rebel Without a Cause has aged in an undeniably awkward fashion, and the result is a film that simply doesn't hold up.
    Isaac H Super Reviewer

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