Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Genre: Drama Romance Americana Classic
Starring: James Dean (East Of Eden, Giant), Natalie Wood (West Side Story, The Searchers)
Directed By: Nicholas Ray (Johnny Guitar)
Overview: A troubled teen new in town is quickly caught up in the same old sort of trouble. With the hope of making friends, he finds himself defending his honour all too often instead.
Acting: Here's some neat tidbits I had no idea about: Denis Hopper plays one of his first ever film roles as a goon, and The Millionaire and The Professor from "Giligan's Island" are both here too. Perhaps james Dean was a little too old at 24 to be playing a high-school student, but his presence and skill are without peer. Sadly he was only in one other movie since this one before being killed in an automobile accident. As for Natalie, she does a great naive little girl. The acting is certainly memorable.
Cinematography: I specifically recall being unimpressed by the style of shooting except for two incidents where the camera tilts a few degrees to the right during a scene, adding a poignancy to the climactic moment in the scene without distracting too much. The camerawork is professional and the Technicolor really does a great job of bringing out the reds, like Natalie's lipstick and Dean's jacket (so much so that I wonder if they were cranked up on purpose), but there was so much of the standard rote filming that I was a little disappointed, hoping for so much more. Except for that 50s rocker look everywhere, this movie is really not about the look.
Script: The magic of scriptwriting comes from a writer being able to define a large chunk of a situation and also let the user imagine all the logical back-story in just a few lines. This is written in such a way that in each scene where James is talking to his parents, within five lines you understand all too well what the problems are, you know they're recurring and you know it's not going to end anytime soon. Not only are all the characters deeply defined, but we know them so well that you don't even need to hear the rest of the scene to know what Mom's going to say next, or how Dad's going to handle it.
Plot: The story, simple in its delivery is not about that rebellious 'I don't care' attitude found in such films as Brando's tough-guy role in The Wild One (1953). Where I expected a story about a misled youth going around and causing trouble, I found instead something deeper: the story of a boy who just wants to get along, be a happy, non-violent and peaceful citizen, and finds himself bent too much by those around him to make right. Having a protagonist who does all he can to avoid society's ills and still have to face the consequences that paint him into a corner, that's a story worth being told.
Mood: The poodle dresses and tough guy greaser look is less corny than in The Wanderers (1979) for example, but this film sports stereotypes galore, be it in fashion or action. Getting mocked by the cool kids from a convertible, knife-fights and drag races, all that stuff is a tad cliché, but I'm sure those clichés have this film as the source. My favorite scene however were those with his family, because oddly enough we didn't have a dismissive angry boy yelling at his parents, we have scenes that suck us into his world far more than his dealings with the other kids.
Overall Rating: 84% ('Cause You Should, That's Why)
Aftertaste: James Dean, in this, embodies cool. He's young and handsome, has his whole life ahead of him (tragic when compared to the truth), but he's a rich, sympathetic character who understands the world and tries to be more mature than those around him. I guess of there's a lesson to be learned here it's that parents miht want to undesrtand that it's a different world out there than they were used to, and the way it's going it looks like the next generation will have to face more violence and crime and peer pressure than the last.