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No. 6, May 2000
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Rebel Without a Cause 1955
Get it on DVD from Amazon.com
 
Rebel Without a Cause is one of the great Hollywood-classics. The DVD includes special features such as the famous short interview with James Dean in which he tells the audience, especially the younger people, to drive safely on the streets, not to race on the highway. He only races on the track. The interview took place not long before James Dean died in a tragic car accident driving his Porsche.
 
In another "behind the scenes feature" 300 people in trucks and cars are driving up to a mountain top to shot a scene for the movie. It shows all that is needed: the equipment, the crew, the actors. In an unsubstantial, short interview one learns that Natalie Wood has been on the set since she was four years old (1941). Not only Rebel Without a Cause but also the "behind the scenes" features are not always "realistic" or "documentary" but often look like stage-play. Never forget that the movie was shot in 1955. By the way, it was first supposed to be a black and white movie, for some scenes, WB-color was added later. There was also a different opening scene first and an alternative ending too, with young Plato (Sal Mineo) shot on the observation dome by police. Plato falls down and the closing of the dome would have been the final shot.
 
Rebel Without a Cause is about boys and girls in an ordinary neighborhood (not a slum). They do not understand the world and the world does not understand them. It is about the relationship between parents and children, between children and between parents. The conflicts are not black and white. There is some hope. The characters have all darker and lighter sides. There is also a police officer from the juvenile division who tells Jim Stark (James Dean) that parents don't understand their children. "They never do." So next time, when he gets into trouble, Jim should first come to see him. It's easier to talk to him than to his "folks". But at a crucial moment of Rebel Without a Cause, the policeman is not in his office.
 
Jim tells the officer that his father is a "chicken" and that he does not want to become like him. His home is a "zoo" and his mother is eating his father alive. The key scene responsible for the film's title: After a boy was killed, a mother (Ann Doran) says to her son (James Dean): "I don't want you to go to the police!" And his father (Jim Backus): "You know that you did wrong. That's the main thing." But the son answers: "That's nothing. You told me to always tell the truth." The mother explains that they just don't want him to "volunteer". The son accuses his mother of not being able to face the truth - not only in this particular case, but in general. The son does not want "phony excuses", he just has to get this thing right.
 
Jim Backus as Jim's father plays a tragic figure who does what his wife wants him to do and therefore does not have the esteem from his son a father normally gets. Despite that fact, Jim loves his father. The son has problems making friends. They family moves from one place to another. Its Jim's first day in a new school. There is just one younger boy, Plato (Sal Mineo), who wants to be his friend right away. Plato has a mother who does not care about him - she is away, traveling around - and a father who left the family some time ago. There is only an African American woman who does the daily work in Plato's house (that one never gets to see).
 
Jim (James Dean) has problems being accepted by "The Wheel", a gang of kids at school (one of them is young Dennis Hopper). A girl from his neighborhood, Judy (Natalie Wood), is the girlfriend of the gang's leader. The best-known scene of Rebel Without a Cause is of course the deadly "drag race" or "chicken-run", as the kids of the gang call it, between Jim and The Wheel's leader. A lot of drama follows - with another kid killed (shot by police) in the end.
 
The film is directed by Nicholas Ray and based on his story and the screenplay by Stewart Stern, adapted by Irving Shulman, is often like a stage play and has its limits. But it is one of the classic movies of the 1950s that can appeal to today's generation of teenagers. The scene at the planetarium with the professor explaining the universe to his students is the key to understanding their feelings as they reach adulthood: "The Earth will one day disappear in a burst of gas and fire. [...] In the immensity of our universe and the galaxies beyond, the Earth will not be missed. Through the infinite reaches of space the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed. And man, existing alone, seems himself an episode of little consequence."
 
For more articles on movies: Film.

 
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 6, May 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  Advertise  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.