Rebel Without a Cause
is a 1955
film directed by Nicholas Ray
that tells the story of a rebellious teenager
played by James Dean
, who comes to a new town, meets a girl, defies his parents, and faces the local high school bullies. It sought to portray the existing decay of youth in middle America, critique parental style, and expose the rift between two generations
. The title is taken from psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner's 1944
book, Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath
. The film itself, however, does not reference Lindner's book in any other way. In 1990, Rebel Without a Cause
was added to the preserved films of the United States Library of Congress
's National Film Registry
as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The main plot centers on Jim Stark (James Dean), a 17-year-old. Stark and his parents move to Los Angeles, where he enrolls at Dawson High School. The film begins with Stark brought into the police station for public drunkenness. His mother, father and grandmother come to get him, and the film's central dilemma is introduced. Jim's parents are frequently quarreling, both in front of him and behind his back. Often the father is the one who tries to stand up for Jim; however, Jim's mother, a naturally pushy woman, easily overpowers him and always wins out; Jim feels betrayed both by this fighting and by his father's lack of backbone, leading to feelings of unrest and displacement, this shows later in the film when he repeatedly asks his father "what do you do when you have to be a man?".
While trying to fit in at the school, he becomes involved in a dispute with a local bully and tough guy named Buzz Gunderson. While he tries to deal with Buzz (Corey Allen), he becomes friends with a 15-year-old boy, John, nick-named Plato (Sal Mineo), who was also at the police station the night of the opening scene for shooting puppies. Plato idolizes Jim, his real father having abandoned his family. Plato experiences many of the same problems as Jim, such as searching for a place in life and dealing with parents who "don't understand."
Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), whom he also recognizes from the police station, where she was brought in for being out alone after dark, who originally acts unimpressed by Jim, saying in an ironic tone "I'm sure you're a real yoyo". She belongs to the high school gang of Buzz Gunderson. The thugs challenge Jim to a "Chicken Race" with Buzz, racing stolen cars towards an abyss. The one who first jumps out of the car loses and is deemed a "chicken." The "game" ends in tragedy for Buzz; he is the first to "chicken", but a strap on the sleeve of his leather jacket becomes caught on the car door and he is unable to jump before it goes over the cliff.
Jim tries to tell his parents what happened but becomes frustrated by their utter failure to understand him and storms out of the house. When Jim is seen trying to go to the police by some of Buzz's friends, they decide to hunt him down, and harass Plato and Jim's family to try to find him. Judy and Plato join him in the garden of an abandoned villa, where they act out a "fantasy family", with Jim as father, Judy as mother and Plato as child. The thugs soon discover them, and Plato pulls a gun, firing at one of the boys, Jim, and a police officer, in a clearly unstable state.
Plato hides in the Griffith Observatory which is soon sieged by the police. Jim and Judy follow him inside, and Jim convinces Plato to lend him the gun, from which he silently removes the ammunition magazine (though he neglects the round in the chamber). When Plato steps out of the observatory, he becomes unstable again at the sight of the police and charges forward, brandishing his weapon. He is fatally shot by a police officer acting in defense of himself and the bystanders, despite Jim's yelling to police that he removed the bullets. Plato was wearing Jim's jacket at the time, and as a result, Jim's parents (brought to the scene by police) think at first that Jim was shot. Mr. Stark then runs to comfort Jim, who is distraught by Plato's death, and promises to be a stronger father figure, one that his son can depend on. Thus reconciled, Jim introduces Judy to his parents.
Warner Brothers had bought the rights to the book, intending to use the title for a film. Attempts to create a film version in the late 1940s eventually ended without a film or even a full script being produced. When Marlon Brando
did a five-minute screen test
for the studio in 1947, he was given fragments of one of the 1940s partial scripts. However, Brando was not auditioning for Rebel Without a Cause
and there was no offer of any part made by the studio. The film, as it later appeared, was the result of a totally new script written in the 1950s that had nothing to do with the material Brando screen-tested with. The screen test is included on a 2006 special edition DVD
of A Streetcar Named Desire
- According to a biography on her, Natalie Wood almost did not get the role of Judy because Nicholas Ray thought that she didn't seem fit for the role of the wild teen character. While on a night out with friends, she got into a car accident. Upon hearing this, Ray rushed to the hospital. While in delirium, Wood overheard the doctor murmuring and calling her a "goddamn juvenile delinquent"; she soon yelled to Ray, "Did you hear what he called me Nick?! He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! Now do I get the part?!"
The real-life location that Dawson High School was filmed on is Santa Monica High School, located in Santa Monica, California.
The film was in production from 28 March to 25 May .
The 1949 Mercury Coupe James Dean drove in the movie is part of the permanent collection at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
Awards and honors
American Film Institute recognition
- The man wearing a trenchcoat and carrying a briefcase and walking towards Griffith Observatory at the end of the movie is director Nicholas Ray.
- All three of the main stars (James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo) died under tragic circumstances. Dean was killed in a traffic accident on September 30, 1955 aged 24, Mineo was murdered on February 12, 1976 aged 37 and Wood drowned on November 29, 1981 aged 43. In addition, Nick Adams is often linked to the urban legend surrounding this film. Adams, often considered "The Poor Man's James Dean" (he is also connected to Dean due to dubbing some of his lines in Giant because of Dean's death), attempted to let the spirit of Dean live vicariously through Adams in his work, which was notably most successful with The Rebel. But following an Oscar nomination for Twilight of Honor, his career began to decline and he allegedly died of a drug overdose on February 7, 1968 aged 36 (although several people, including his own daughter, believe he may have been murdered).
- The cliff edge chicken run scene has been imitated in numerous films and TV programs, including an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Quantum Leap.
- The mansion in which Jim, Judy and Plato seek refuge was also Norma Desmond's house in the film Sunset Blvd.. It was owned by millionaire J. Paul Getty.
Pop culture references
- The pop band Jim Stärk is named after the film's main character.
- The '80s British rock group The Smiths quote a line from the movie for the song "Stretch Out and Wait" from the album Louder Than Bombs: "As we lie, you say : Will the world end in the night time? (I really don't know) Or will the world end in the day time? (I really don't know) And is there any point ever having children? Oh, I don't know. What I do know is we're here and it's now".
- Kid Rock's 1999 album, Devil Without a Cause is a play on the title of the film.
- The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Date with Density" shares many plot similarities. And in "Take My Wife, Sleaze", the Simpsons are watching a similar movie, in which one of the characters exclaims "He's a rebel I tell ya! A rebel without a cause ...just like the boy in that popular movie we saw"
- Some of the scenes from the Bollywood movie Ghulam starring Aamir Khan are influenced from this movie.
- Long Island post-hardcore band Disarming Arctica have a song entitled "You Can Wake Up Now the Universe has Ended" based on a line from Rebel Without a Cause. The song is about the life and death of James Dean.
- The 1991 Paula Abdul music video for the single "Rush, Rush" is an adaptation of the film with Keanu Reeves as the James Dean character, Jim, and Abdul as the Natalie Wood character, Judy.
- A main character from Futurama, Philip J. Fry's outfit is based on James Dean's character's outfit.
- Hilary Duff sang a song called "Mr. James Dean" that related to him and the movie Rebel Without a Cause.
- In the Jay Z song "Allure", the lyrics allude to James Dean. "Even James Dean couldn't escape the allure, dyin' young, leavin' a good looking corpse".
- The tag line of Stubbs The Zombie is "A rebel without a pulse", a play on the film's title.
- Country music group Shenandoah 1993 hit song "I Wanna Be Loved Like That" contains the following lyrics- Natalie Wood gave her heart to James Dean/ The high school rebel and the teenage queen/ Standin together in an angry world/ One boy fightin for one girl
- In an episode, titled Pre-Hibernation week, of the television show "SpongeBob SquarePants", SpongeBob screams "Your games are tearing me apart!", referencing Jim's "Your words are tearing me apart!" line.
- Perhaps most well-known is the line from Don McLean's American Pie, "...In a coat he borrowed from James Dean," referencing the scene where Plato borrows James Dean's character's jacket.
- In the Garfield book, Garfield at the Movies: Lights, Camera, Hairballs!, It includes a parody of the film entitled "Rebel Without a Clue" which included Odie as James Dean.
- The popular website FunnyOrDie released a video titled Acting with James Franco where James Franco and his brother Dave Franco try to reenact the jacket scene from this film. Franco had played James Dean in a 2001 biography film.