Review by Brian Koller|
2½ stars out of 4
"Rebel Without a Cause" had an outstanding, if unfortunate,
promotional gimmick. Young, charismatic lead James Dean,
his star on the rise from his performance in the highly
successful "East of Eden", died in a car accident less
than a month before the film's release. Perhaps this was a
case of life imitating art, since a dangerous game of 'chicken'
is one of the highlights of "Rebel". With its attractive
leads, a teens-in-peril theme, and a fast-moving plot,
"Rebel" was a tremendous commercial success. It also
created a cultural impact that formed the basis for its
critical praise. Along with "The Wild One", "Blackboard
Jungle" and rock 'n' roll music, "Rebel" fanned fears
(justified or not) among conservative parents that teens
would choose anti-establishment heroes and values.
The story features three teenagers, each from dysfunctional
families. Jim (James Dean) has a shrewish mother (Ann Doran)
and spineless father, leaving him afraid of becoming a
'chicken' like his father (Jim Backus). Judy (Natalie Wood)
has a father (William Hopper) who is physically repelled by
her, making her anxious to find love from a father substitute.
Plato is a creepy, sad-faced teen whose parents are absent,
leaving him to be raised by a nanny (Marietta Canty). Plato
is looking for substitutes for both mother and father,
momentarily achieving this when Jim and Judy appear willing.
Anyway, that is my amateur psychological evaluation of the
leads. Your mileage may vary.
Our three troubled teens have brushes with the law and
with gangs of tough-talking hoodlums led by Buzz
(Corey Allen) and Goon (Dennis Hopper). "Rebel Without a
Cause" expresses the theory that juvenile delinquents
from affluent, 'good' families is not the fault of the
mixed-up kids, but their mixed-up parents. The apparent
conclusion is that the social problem can be solved by
assigning a psychiatrist to every juvenile offender,
ideally with their parents participating.
James Dean's onscreen persona is surprisingly sensitive
and loyal to his friends. He only resorts to violence
when he is forced to, except for a frustrated attack on
his dithering, hapless father. Backus actually wears a
large, matronly apron throughout one lengthy scene: Dean,
you'll have to find a role model elsewhere.
"Rebel Without a Cause" was nominated for three Academy
Awards, including Best Supporting Actor (Mineo) and
Actress (Wood). Dean was posthumously nominated for
Best Actor that year, but for the film "East of Eden",
losing to (believe it or not) Ernest Borgnine.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller