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Rebel without a Cause (1955)

Natalie Wood, Sal Minea, and James Dean.

Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and James Dean.

When you look at the starry sky, you don’t notice the stars that have been shining the longest. You look at the ones that shine brightest. The same is true for Hollywood: The stars that are remembered are not the ones who shine longer than others, but brighter. There is no better example of this than James Dean.

In only three films (the other two being East of Eden and Giant, both of which he was nominated for an Oscar), James Dean showed more star power than most actors do in 3 decades. Sadly, this was attributed to his early death in a car accident on September 30th, 1955 (almost a month before Rebel without a Cause was released. East of Eden had already been released and Giant would be released the following year). Afterwards, the legend of James Dean began, and has no sign of ending.

In Rebel without a Cause, he plays Jim Stark, which is arguably his most famous role. Stark is the new High School kid who has trouble making friends. The film starts with him being brought in to the police after drinking. We also meet his parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran), who have their own problems (basically Jim’s mom wears the pants in the relationship).

There are also two supporting characters of great strength. We first meet Judy (Natalie Wood), who is having a rocky relationship with her father. The second (and probably most messed up of them all, is Plato (Sal Mineo), who sees Jim as a friend and more.

Parents, the movie was in the 1950s, so there is nothing totally horrible (though some characters do die in dramatic ways). I still think any teenager (especially one interested in old classic films) would benefit greatly from this film. The film still catches the essence of teenage drama better than almost any other film I have seen.

It is sad, though, when you think about the fate of the three main stars. Dean died in a car accident, Sal Mineo was murdered in the 1970s, and Natalie Wood, of course drowned.

In the end, though, it is all about James Dean. His short career is still the biggest “what if” in Hollywood history. There is a scene in the movie where Plato is talking to Judy about Jim. Plato says that he is “sincere”. In the end, that described James Dean and his acting.

Overall: Five Stars *****

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