James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson, Edward Platt, Frank Mazzola, Dennis Hopper, Jack Grinnage, Virginia Brissac, Marietta Canty, Ian Wolfe, Beverly Long, Nick Adams, Steffi Sidney, Jack Simmons, John Righetti
Teenager Jim Stark (James Dean) can't help but get into trouble, a problem that has forced his parents to move over and over again. After being arrested for drunkenness, he decides that he'll try not to get into trouble, but somehow gets mixd up with some tough guys who talk him into participating in their Chickie run, which involves driving cars towards the edge of a cliff, and that's when the real troubles begin.
The film that has consecrated James Dean as one of the major movie icones of all time, Rebel Without a Cause is one of the greatest films ever made.
Nicholas Ray crafted an extraordinary and powerful film that takes a look with great interest on the world of young people and their complex vision of reality, and the dramas that they may have to face because they consider life difficult, painful, and sometimes impossible to understand.
Contrary to popular belief, and although there are some scenes that mark the passage of time - for example when Jim kisses Judy on her forehead, and she is shocked by that -, the film isn't dated. Not yet. The problems of the main characters are the same of teenagers even today, and has been so for the past 60 years, only Chickie runs have been replaced by alcohol and drugs, so not to feel anything.
One of the major theme is the relationship between adult and their teenage children, and all three of the main characters are facing family problems. With a cold and distanced mother, Jim tries to communicate with his father, which unfortunately is, for Jim, under the thumb of his mother and wife, and is unable to act like man. Then there's Judy, which tries in every way to draw attention from her father, but he sees the love and affection of her teenage daughter completely out of place. And lastly there's Plato, firstly abandoned by his father, and later by his mother as well, who sees his parents in Jim and Judy, even though, on the other hand, he is sexually attracted to Jim and sees Judy as a threat. So without even talking about it, Ray manages to talk about a taboo subject in the 50's, homosexuality.
The sequence in the planetarium - the only moment of calm and quiet in the entire film - has the function to unify all the characters - and humanity - inevitable fate of becoming stardust one day. The Chickie run sequence is also unfrogettable, so is Jim's calm after the tragic event.
With his exceptional expressive abilities, James Dean manages to convey the anxiety, anger, weakness and confusion felt by Jim - and probably by himself as well - in a powerful and charismatic performance. His whole career consists of only three film, and if he didn't meet his fate so early, he would have probably been one of the biggest actors in cinematic history now. Natalie Wood as Judy and Sal Mineo as Plato both do a good job, but Jim Backus stands out in the supporting cast as Jim's weak father.
Jim Stark: You're tearing me apart!
Jim Stark: If I had one day when I didn't have to be all confused and I didn't have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know?