Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

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Synopsis: Troubled youth Jim Stark (James Dean) is on the run from his past. His domineering mother (Ann Doran) and hen-pecked father (Jim Backus) have left Jim confused about how to be a man. Jim’s mother thinks all her son’s problems will be solved when they move to a new town and transfer Jim to a new high school. There Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), a nice girl who runs with a bad crowd and is aching for someone to love her for who she really is. He also meets Plato (Sal Mineo), a sensitive and unpopular boy with absentee parents who is yearning for guidance and acceptance. Unfortunately, Jim also meets Buzz (Corey Allen) and the gang, who do everything they can to provoke Jim into falling back into his old habits. Then something goes horribly wrong, and Jim must decide on his own how to handle it. Can doing the right thing ever be the wrong choice? If you can’t find a role model for manhood in your own father, where canyou find one?

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

This review was originally posted on my old blog, Movie Dames, in August of 2009. Since that blog is no longer in existence and there isn’t an archive of my posts there, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to use this opportunity to repost this review. I don’t discuss the film from strictly a queer perspective, but I do go into the queer aspects of it quite a bit. I’m leaving most of the original writing intact; this is just how it looked when it was published two years ago, so if the writing or analysis seems amateurish – just remember, this is coming from me two years ago. :) Please don’t judge me too harshly.

Warning: This is a Full Recap review, meaning it includes screencaps and commentary on the film in its entirety. Therefore, it is much longer than a regular review, and spoilers are pretty much guaranteed.

Guess what, friends? I love the 1950s. In fact, the ’50s is probably my favorite film decade. Such an interesting and pivotal time in Hollywood history, what with the desperate attempts to combat the novel popularity of television, the invention of CinemaScope and the mainstreaming of Technicolor, the rise of those scary and unpredictable Method Actors, and the beginning of the end for the Motion Picture Production Code of censorship guidelines. The ’50s were a turning point, a transitional period in filmmaking, yet completely unique in their own right. The ’50s changed the way people thought about movies, the world, and each other. Truly a monumental decade in film!

However, many classic film enthusiasts do not agree. Indeed, many purists don’t even consider the ’50s to fall within the realm of classic at all. I think the dispute comes from the very definition of the word classic: whether it means good, or whether it means old. Obviously I’m not saying that old films can’t possibly be good, or that good films can’t possibly be old; they’re not mutually exclusive. But which is the defining characteristic of classic? Is it an era, or a caliber? For me, as for most people (I suspect), it’s a mixture of both, and very nuanced. Mostly, though, when I say I like classic film, I mean I like old film. I know, I know, it’s very gauche, but hear me out. What I like about classic film – my own private, nuanced, completely personal definition of classic film – is that it doesn’t have to be good for me to like it. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy classic film simply because I’m mean and like to sit around and make fun of it (although sometimes it does mean that). But it gives me an excuse to like things not based on caliber, not based on the quality of the writing or the sincerity of the acting or the technique of the cinematography – but simply because it’s old, and I enjoy it. When I define the 1950s as classic, and define classic as old, I am stripping away any expectations or qualifications of caliber. This gives me an excuse to view ’50s films without judgment, without a postmodern perspective, without a jaded view of what defines something as a good film. I can be entertained, and I can enjoy, without worrying about whether it means I have bad taste or not. If you have been close-minded about your definition of classic, I would advise you to give Doris Day and Sandra Dee another look. You may be surprised by what you find.

That being said, anybody who can look at the 1950s and not define it as a classic decade, whether they’re using the good definition or the old definition, is completely off their rocker. All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Shane, From Here to Eternity, Hud, On the Waterfront, Rear Window, East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor – SHALL I GO ON???

Therefore, my review today is of the 1955 CLASSIC WITH A CAPITAL C, Rebel Without A Cause.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 1950s. This movie is everything I adore about the decade. It’s visually stunning, brilliantly acted, so heart-wrenchingly melodramatic it makes your teeth hurt – and yet completely ridiculous in every single way. But good ridiculous, the kind of ridiculous where you don’t even realize how ridiculous it is until it’s over and you’ve finished crying and you suddenly say to yourself, “Wait a minute… did that whole thing start because somebody called James Dean a chicken?” Yes, it’s true. The ’50s represented the zenith of this type of filmmaking. Director Douglas Sirk made a name for himself in the ’50s crafting “women’s weepies” such as Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows. I would argue that Rebel Without A Cause is a “men’s weepy.” It is JUST. SO. DRAMATIC!!! Sometimes I even wonder if director Nicholas Ray isn’t playing a trick on us by throwing so much whiny angst and melodrama in our faces – especially when you consider that the events of Rebel supposedly all take place over the course of a single day.

Plus that James Dean fella was a mighty fine actor. I mean, what do you want me to say? He’s still monumentally overrated and marketed and misrepresented everywhere you look. But he was good. Not the best, but close. Of course he pretty much played the same character in all three of the films he ever did, so we have no idea what kind of range he may have had. The best thing Jimmy ever did for his career was die. But yes, I’d call myself a fan.

However, the main reason why I love Rebel Without A Cause is Sal Mineo. I love Sal Mineo. No, I mean I really, really love him. Would I call myself obsessed with Sal Mineo? I’m not sure. Does carrying around his biography (Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery by H. Paul Jeffers) like it’s my Bible and reading it so many times the pages are falling out count as obsessed? Does journeying to his murder site and last place of residence, on his birthday, wearing mismatched socks like Plato does in Rebel count as obsessed? It does? Well then, consider me OBSESSED.

Sal Mineo is my favorite actor, and Rebel Without A Cause is the very first movie I ever saw him in, which has earned it a very special place in my heart. Because of this, it’s a bit hard for me to watch, given how poor Plato ends up. I usually cry, or turn away, or just turn it off. But for you, dear readers, I will do my best to soldier on.


The film starts with Jim gazing adoringly at a wind-up monkey. A lot of hubbub has been made about how this beginning was TOTALLY IMPROVISED by James Dean and is SO EPICALLY GENIUS. Which shows you just how rabid film critics are to praise James Dean for ANYTHING. But let’s give it a rest. It’s just a monkey.

So we’re introduced to this goofball of a kid who’s been arrested for public drunkenness. The cop frisks him and he giggles like he’s being tickled. Then he gets very upset when they try to take his monkey away. This was also a James Dean improvisation, which I’ll admit is pretty cute, but not OMG GENIUS like some brown-nosers will tell you.

Then we see this official-looking guy come out and call a girl named Judy into his office. I’m sorry everybody, but I loathe Natalie Wood in this movie. It’s not particularly her fault, it’s more her character. I just find her incredibly annoying and superfluous in every way. Just a warning for how the rest of this review may go.

Anyway, so this chick Judy starts blubbering about how her father hates her, thinks she’s the ugliest thing in the world, and called her a dirty tramp. Admittedly, that is some pretty harsh stuff. So she got picked up by the cops for wandering around the streets in the middle of the night. The guy behind the desk ponders if she was “looking for some company.” WHOA, racy! Then Judy starts saying she doesn’t even know why she does “it,” and the cop suggests that maybe she thinks she can get back at her dad “that way.” We’re not just talking about wearing some slutty lipstick here, are we? This is some scandalous allusion!

Then the cop asks Judy if she’d like to go home, if they can arrange it. Like if she says no they’ll just let her live in the police station.

Then we pan back to this character, who’s sitting there imitating the police siren. See? This is why I can’t hate James Dean. He’s so frustratingly charming in moments like this. This scene always CRACKS ME UP.

Then we see this little boy who’s shivering like a drowned rat, and Jim comes over and offers him his jacket. MY HEART, SHE SWELLS.

Back to Judy, who’s all whimpery because her mother’s coming to pick her up when she really wanted her father to come. Sorry, Judy, he thinks you’re a tramp. When Judy gets up she accidentally leaves her compact behind. I’ve always appreciated Nick Ray’s directing in this shot. Other directors might put the compact smack in the middle of the chair, which is stupid, but Ray puts it to the side and almost falling off, which is way more believable. Good job, Nick Ray. Way to make the little details count.

Then Jim’s parents arrive, along with his grandmother, and the cop who talked to Judy takes them all into his office. Meanwhile the little shivering boy is being interviewed in another office. We learn that his name is Plato (his real name’s John Crawford but the kids call him Plato, though it’s never explained why) and he’s been picked up by the cops because he shot a litter of puppies. He SHOT some PUPPIES! Sometimes I cannot watch this scene, because Sal Mineo is so beautiful that it makes my eyes hurt. Though I am an animal lover, I even find his crime adorable. He’s just about the cutest puppy murderer I ever did see.

We find out that Plato’s mother is perpetually out of town, and he never sees his father. The cop asks if Plato has ever seen a psychiatrist. “You mean a headshrinker?” Plato scoffs. This is one of my favorite lines in the film. You see, Sal Mineo’s Bronx accent was so strong that they had to dub the word “headshrinker.” He couldn’t help but pronounce it “headshrinkah.” I LOVE THAT.

So back to Jim. He’s basically just sitting there being incoherent while his parents argue about him. Mom is upset that Jim is drunk, Dad says it’s no big deal. Then Dad asks if Jim went out and got drunk because he was mad his parents had gone to a party, apparently of the sort which “turns into a drunken brawl.” Really? Mom is in furs, Dad’s in a suit. They brought Grandma along, for Pete’s sake. I have a hard time imagining these three getting into any Roadhouse-style bar fights; even so, I like to try. Anyway, they bicker bicker bicker until Jim explodes, “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!!!” If you think you’re torn apart, you should see the number Grandma did on the bouncer back at the party. Twisted a bottle in his face, she did!

The cop takes Jim into a private office, where Jim tries to take a swing at him but misses. Scrawny inebriated teenager against big burly cop – with a gun? Smooth move, Jimbo. So the cop tries to talk to Jim and asks him why he’s so intent on getting in trouble. Jim says he wants to be locked up to stop him from doing something bad and hurting someone. The cop suggests he beat up the desk, even though I’m pretty sure it never did anything to him to deserve that (except for that time it called him a chicken). So Jim starts punching and kicking the poor innocent desk. They had to put a big dramatic swell of music over this part, because in test screenings people laughed. The music does not stop me from laughing.

Jim explains to the cop that they had to move from the last town because Jim beat up somebody who called him a chicken. His parents don’t understand. NOBODY UNDERSTANDS. Teenagers are so whiny.

Jim explains that he’s conflicted because his mom is always picking on his dad, and his dad doesn’t stand up for himself. You see, gender roles in the Stark household aren’t rigidly defined, and therefore Jim is COMPLETELY MESSED UP. He wears his shoes on his hands and puts books in the refrigerator. But there’s a solution! “If he had the guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop picking on him.” Yes, domestic violence always makes people happier, especially the victim.

So the cop tells him that if he ever needs to talk, he can just come to the police station – any time, night or day. Though Jim comes to the police station looking for help several times throughout the film, this will be the last time we see this policeman. Way to follow through, buddy.

It’s the next morning, and Jim is heading off to his first day at school. I just realized that I haven’t shown you Jim’s family yet. Here they are. Don’t get too attached to Grandma, because this is the last time you’ll ever see her. I’m serious, after this scene she just DISAPPEARS. Apparently continuity wasn’t yet invented in 1955.

Outside, Jim runs into Judy from the police station. Jim asks, “You live here, don’t you?” Judy responds, “Who lives?” Shut up, Judy.

Jim offers Judy a ride to school. “I go with The Kids,” she says. I like that line and always hope for it to turn into a musical number. Then she calls him a yo-yo, whatever the heck that means. Then The Kids arrive in a big ol’ clown car. The lead Kid is Buzz, Judy’s boyfriend. He’s the one making a chimp face in this screencap. That blond one in the back with his hand to his mouth is a young Dennis Hopper. However, my favorite kid is played by Nick Adams, the one in the hat. I’m pretty sure his only role in this group is The One Who Wears A Hat. I like to imagine he switches it up every once in a while and wears a different hat, and this is how he achieves his popularity and acceptance within the group.

So anyway. Next we are at the school. It’s called Dawson High School, but they actually filmed it at Santa Monica High School, where my mom went!!!!!! AWESOME, RIGHT? I love being from Los Angeles. When Jim enters the school he steps on the school insignia, which you’re apparently not supposed to do, and some kid yells at him but then is totally understanding when Jim explains that he’s new. I’m glad the kids at this school are at least practical about their totally nonsensical protocols.

Then we see little Plato opening his locker. Instead of a sexy pin-up girl, he has a photo of Alan Ladd in his locker. WHAT COULD THAT POSSIBLY SIGNIFY??? I actually read a very interesting essay that postulated that the studio chose Alan Ladd because of his then-recent starring role in Shane, about a young boy yearning for a father figure. Plato is a boy without a father or any models of manhood, so it would make sense for him to idolize Shane (and by proxy Ladd), and sets him up to transfer that paternal adoration onto Jim. Many male Rebel Without A Cause theorists argue that the Jim/Plato relationship is really all about two boys who don’t know how to become men; Plato looks to Jim to become his surrogate father (with Judy as his mother), and Jim struggles with this because he has not yet learned how to be a man from his own ineffectual father.

I have also heard that the photo in the locker was originally supposed to be of Tab Hunter, but Warner Bros. nixed it because Hunter was not a studio player.

What’s my opinion? I think that HAVING A PHOTOGRAPH OF A DUDE PINNED UP IN HIS LOCKER might just be a not-so-thinly-veiled allusion to Plato being gay. Anybody who refuses to see this as even a slight possibility is in denial, and is absolutely no fun at all. Analyzing the Jim/Plato dynamic as strictly a study in masculinity issues is totally heteronormative and dullsville. Do not worry, male film historians of America! Just because James Dean might have been the object of Sal Mineo’s homosexual lust in one little movie (to say nothing of either actor’s personal life) does not mean you are any less heterosexual or manly. Please do not allow your personal insecurities to deny others a queer reading of this film. Everyone has a right to interpret ambiguity as they wish.

Uh, sorry about all them big words. This is what a women’s college does to you.

ANYWAY. Then the class goes on a field trip to the Griffith Observatory. The Kids are making fun of the constellations, because they are just too cool for the universe, I guess. Jim tries to play along by mooing when they point out Taurus, but instead The Kids just think he’s an idiot, and rightfully so. On Sal Mineo’s birthday, when I made the pilgrimage to his murder site, I finished up the day by seeing a planetarium show at the Griffith Observatory. But the planetarium had been completely remodeled, and I was sad. And no, I did not moo.

The planetarium show ends with a simulation of the supposed end of the world, which seems a little heavy for an educational field trip but whatever. Plato freaks out, because he is delicate and fragile and darling in every way. He hides behind the seat.

After the show, Jim rescues Plato from his hiding place. Man, you guys, I’ve got it bad. I have seen this movie dozens of times, and have seen sixteen of the twenty-one feature films Sal Mineo made in his lifetime; and yet I still cannot get over how cute this kid is. Look at him!!! HIS PRETTINESS IS RIDICULOUS!!!!

Then we see The Kids. They’re planning something.

“Hey, what’s for kicks?”
“What do you say, Buzz?”
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“How about Moo?”
“You mean the guy in there?”
“The comedian.”
“What do you say?”
“All right! What do you want to do?”
“Let’s bring him down.”
“He’d make a good pigeon.”
“What’s the funny guy doing?”
“The guy in back of us, Buzz.”
“He ought to have his wardrobe cleaned and burned.”
“All right, Moo.”
“All right.”
“What will we do with him?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll figure out what we’ll do with him.”
“Relax. He’ll figure it out.”


I like Dennis Hopper’s character at the end when he gets all confused, like, “Wait, but we never actually committed to doing anything! WHAT’S GOING ON?!?”

Since The Kids are waiting to ambush him outside and do something totally undefined yet presumably menacing, Jim hides out on the observatory deck. There Plato joins him, and points out a place where they can go and hide.

“We can go live in a matte painting. C’mon, it’ll be just like Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Before they can get away, The Kids find them and swarm Jim’s car. Then they just… sit there for a couple of minutes while dramatic music plays. Finally Buzz takes out a switchblade and punctures Jim’s tire. That’s it? It took you ten minutes to think of that? Oh no. Now Jim will have to take one of the readily-available buses back to school. You monsters.

So Jim goes down there to change his tire (he’s got a spare in the trunk, so their trick was even less inconvenient than I thought), and everybody starts clucking like a chicken. Oh no! Don’t they know that chicken sounds are to Jim what spinach is to Popeye? Don’t they know the sound of the mighty chicken is the key Jim needs to unleash his Hulk-like rage? He becomes CHICKEN MAN and starts pecking people’s eyes out! There’s going to be trouble now!

Jim goes to Judy and asks her if she always hangs out with such rank company. Buzz is completely incensed at being referred to as rank (the nerve!) and retaliates by shoving Jim. Jim had a tire iron in his hand from when he was trying to change the tire, and he raises it as a weapon – but then chucks it over the side of the overlook, probably killing an innocent passerby below.

Hey wait. I’ve been to this spot. It’s all forest-y stuff under that overlook. Maybe nobody bothered to retrieve the tire iron after James Dean threw it. Maybe Jim’s tire iron is STILL THERE. Oh man. Next time I’m in L.A. I’m goin’ huntin’.

Then Buzz invites Jim to engage in a little game of Knifey Knifey Stabby Stabby. They even provide Jim with his own switchblade, which makes this one of the most polite knife fights ever caught on film.

A security guard walking by sees the knife fight – and then goes to tell the guy who runs the planetarium show about it. Then the two of them watch disapprovingly. Hmm, if only we employed some sort of guard-like figure whose sole duty was to keep the place secure… Well, what’re you gonna do!

(Okay, I realize that his hat says GUIDE on it, so maybe he’s not technically a security guard, but that is a very policeman-y hat, and besides, how exactly is a little old man with a pipe and a bowtie going to help you???)

When The Kids spot the old men sitting there not making any effort to stop their dangerous shenanigans, they make to leave. “Let’s split, Buzz.” “Split? Split for what, a couple of old poopheads?” HEY! There’s no need to get filthy. They agree to meet up at the bluffs tonight for a chickie run. “You ever been in a chickie run?” Buzz asks Jim. “Sure,” Jim replies. “It’s all I ever do.” In reality Jim has no idea what a chickie run actually is. He assumes they’re going to race baby chickens for fun and profit, which is all he ever does. He’s won the blue ribbon at the State Fair six years in a row now. It’s due to his CHICKEN MAN superpower of being able to telepathically communicate with chickens. Jim figures tonight will be a cinch!

Jim comes home and cleans up. He then drinks milk directly from the bottle, which is DISGUSTING. Then he hears a crash upstairs. “Mom?” Jim calls.

But it’s dear ol’ Dad! He was bringing Mom supper in bed when he dropped the tray. He tells Jim to be quiet so Mom doesn’t catch on that he dropped her food. “Let her see it!” Jim insists, but Dad doesn’t want to. How is he going to poison his shrew of a wife with floor-food if he lets her know what he’s done? That would spoil the whole plan!

Now we are at Judy’s place, being introduced to her dysfunctional parents. Judy’s father enters the room but doesn’t kiss her, so she kisses him and he gets mad and says she’s getting too old for that sort of thing. Then her mom comes in and asks what’s going on, and Dad says dismissively, “I didn’t kiss her, so it’s a big thing.” Man, I love when people are mean to Judy. Then Judy pushes the issue and kisses him again, and her father slaps her. The implications of this storyline make me uncomfortable, so we’re going to ignore it completely from now on, as the film itself does.

Oh, I forgot to mention that when Judy gets mad and leaves, her dad feels bad and calls after her, “Hey, Glamorpuss!” Man. That is the most disgusting nickname I have ever heard in my LIFE. Way to go, Judy/Dad storyline. You make me throw up in my mouth.

Then we’re back in Jim’s bedroom, where he’s asking his father how to be a man. But Dad only wants to give reasonable answers, and Jim hates reason. Here is a picture of shirtless James Dean for you. You just wait until I review Who Killed Teddy Bear?; there’ll be more shirtless Sal Mineo than you can even handle!

Jim gets frustrated and runs out. But before he leaves, he puts on his jacket and grabs a big slice o’ cake for the road. My goodness! Cake before dinner? He really is a rebel!

Then we see a big cliff, which I recognize as the Pacific Palisades but you’re supposed to see as Any Cliff, USA. All The Kids are there waiting. Jim drives in and Plato runs up to the car to meet him. Buzz comes over and wants to talk to Jim in private. Plato is protective of Jim like a fierce little chihuahua, but he stands aside as he knows it’s important for the bigger boys to go do their Manly Things.

While Jim and Buzz are checking out the cars, Judy asks Plato about Jim. Plato proceeds to make up a whole bunch of stuff that Jim never said. “Maybe next summer he’s going to take me hunting with him, and fishing. I want him to teach me how because I know he won’t get mad if I goof.” Plato is the most adorable stalker in the world.

Meanwhile, Jim and Buzz are looking over the edge of the cliff and waxing poetic about their manliness. “Why do we do this?” “You gotta do something, now don’t you?” HAVE YOU TRIED READING? TELEVISION? FENCING? NOT DRIVING YOUR CARS OFF A CLIFF?

So the boys get in their cars. Buzz explains that they’ll both drive toward the cliff, and whoever jumps out of his car first is a chicken, and whoever stays in his car is AN IDIOT. All the other Kids line up their cars along the periphery and turn on their headlights.

The boys peel out.

Plato is a-skeered!

Buzz’s jacket sleeve gets caught on the door handle!

Jim makes it…

…Buzz, not so much.

Jim walks up to the edge of the cliff all giggly and exhilarated. Then he learns that Buzz is dead. Awkward.

Everyone is so upset that they just immediately go home without calling the police. Judy lingers over the cliff, agonizing over her dead boyfriend. Jim extends a hand and leads her away. This will be the last time Judy ever thinks about Buzz. I mean she’s not even that upset about it. She only cries about important things, like her dad disapproving of her lipstick.

Jim drives Judy home, with Plato in tow. Jim gives Judy back her compact that she lost at the police station, which I totally forgot to say he found at the beginning of the movie. Uh, sorry about that. Anyway, he opens it and says, “Wanna see a monkey?” and shows her the mirror. HA! Judy throws poop and is covered in hair!

Then Jim gets to his house and sort of… abandons Plato to find his own way home, I guess. “Hey, you wanna come home with me?” Plato suggests. “I mean, there’s nobody home at my house, and heck, I’m not tired.” Oh yeah, guys, that doesn’t sound gay AT ALL. “If you wanna come, we could talk and in the morning we could have breakfast like my dad used to.” Oh sure, just because he mentions HIS DAD you’re going to turn this into a father/son relationship rather than a homosexual one. Well you won’t spoil my fun, Hypothetical Homophobic Male Film Historian! GAY GAY GAY. SO THERE. NYAH.

(Also, “like my dad used to?” Sorry, Plato, but your dad did not invent breakfast.)

Jim says no thank you and goes inside. Plato writes down the address in his Little Black Book of potential gay lovers/father figures.

Judy gets home and ignores her father, who is dressed as a clown for some reason. Seriously. Those pajamas are unnecessarily ridiculous.


Jim gets home and wakes his parents up. He tells him he was in an accident up on the bluff. “And you wanted him to make a list!” Mom yells at Dad, which is hilarious. Jim says he won’t even bother to explain because his mother obviously doesn’t care. “I don’t care? You remember how I nearly died giving birth to him, and he says I don’t care!” Is Jim’s mother Jewish? Because that is a total Jewish mother thing to say.

Jim explains that it was a matter of honor, and that he had to go because they called him chicken. His parents understand that Jim is unstoppable when he transforms into CHICKEN MAN, with his chicken-like rage.

Jim explains that he has to go to the police because it’s the right thing to do, but his parents don’t want him to because he’ll get himself in trouble. Ay yi yi yi yi!

Jim says he can’t live with himself if he pretends this whole thing didn’t happen and doesn’t go to the police. Dad says that as long as Jim knows he did the wrong thing and learned from it, that’s what’s important. Jim says that’s nothing. Look at Jim Backus’ cute little wounded face here. Have I mentioned how much I love Jim Backus? I really, really do.

“It doesn’t matter because we’re moving!” Jim’s mom shouts, which is also hilarious. Man, Jim’s mom has the best lines in this thing. Jim says that she’s always moving the family when she can’t face herself, and she uses all the phony excuses in the book. Jim looks to his dad for backup, but doesn’t find it.

Jim finally gets so frustrated with his father that he attacks him, with Mom screaming in the background. Mom pulls Jim off of Dad, and Jim makes like he’s going to hit her…

…but instead he just kicks a hole in this portrait of Grandma, who must sleep like a rock if she hasn’t been awakened by all this screaming yet.

Jim runs away from home and goes to the police station. As he walks up the steps, some of The Kids are coming out. They were taken in for questioning about Buzz’s death, but nobody squealed. The Kids are worried Jim will break their silence and get everybody in trouble, so they make a plan to stop him from squealing. Dead friend? What dead friend?

Jim asks to speak to that cop from the beginning of the movie (his name’s Ray) but the police tell him he’s not there. Oh great. So much for “any time, night or day.” NICE JOB, RAY.

So Jim gives Judy a call, but her dad answers the phone. Whoa! Judy’s parents live in my grandmother’s spare bedroom!

So Jim drives home, but as he pulls up, he sees Judy sitting outside in… what is that, a bathrobe? So Jim gets out and sits with her. Just then, they hear a dedication on the radio – to Jim, from Buzz. The song is “I’m Communicating With You From Beyond The Grave To Tell You My Cronies Are Out To Get You” by Gene Krupa.

Then blah blah blah, they whine melodramatically about something existential and poetic, and then Jim kisses Judy on the forehead like he’s taking her temperature. “Your lips are soft,” she says. Jim uses Bonne Bell. Since neither one of them wants to go home and they know The Kids are looking for them, they decide to go to that old painting mansion Plato pointed out.

Next we see Plato arrive home on his SCOOTER. Scoot scoot scoot, goes the scooter! Zing zing zing, goes my heart!

The Kids ambush Plato out of nowhere, beat him up and steal his address book.

Plato runs upstairs into this frilly pink bedroom, which is probably his mother’s room but I like to pretend is his. He finds a child support check from his father, which is enraging to him yet basically irrelevant at this moment. Plato takes out his mother’s gun which is hidden under the sheets (that seems uncomfortable) and runs out into the night. This will not end well.

Back at Jim’s house, his mother is concerned about a pounding sound coming from outside, so she sends Dad out to investigate. Someone has nailed a chicken to their porch. Oh no! Jim has transformed into CHICKEN MAN and been captured! The Kids are all out in the yard sitting in a tree together like they’re elves or something. When the parents go back inside, Dennis Hopper runs up and frees the chicken from the porch, while making chicken sounds at it. Hopper should have won an award for this performance.

The parents search the house for Jim but can’t find him. Then Plato shows up looking BEAUTIFUL. Plato realizes that Jim is probably at that old mansion and runs off to find him, without being kind enough to inform his parents where he thinks their child is.

Then there’s one of those great montages where music plays and all the parents are on the phone together. Except it doesn’t pull back and reveal a whole bunch of little squares with different people in it talking to everybody at once, because that wouldn’t fit the mood of the film right about now.

So Jim and Judy get to the mansion and break in. Plato comes up behind them, and while he is a little perturbed that Judy is there, he asks Jim to let him in too. Then Plato lights a candelabra – yes, a candelabra. Sal Mineo was told to be very careful with this candelabra, because it was scheduled to be used later for a Liberace movie. No, that’s true! I didn’t make it up! I really like imagining Sal being all nervous with the candelabra, thinking, “Oh jeez, I better not screw this up or Liberace will have a fit.”

Then Jim and Judy pretend to be newlyweds and Plato leads them around the house pretending to be a real estate agent, which is really really cute. James Dean does a Mr. Magoo impression here, which is ESPECIALLY hilarious because his father in the film, Jim Backus, did the voice for Mr. Magoo. Warner Bros. wanted to change the impression to Bugs Bunny, because Mr. Magoo was from a different studio. Was Warner Bros. Determined to ruin EVERYTHING about this movie?

Meanwhile, these creeps are still on the hunt. What is Dennis Hopper’s obsession with touching his nose? Every time they’re in the car he’s incessantly touching his nose. STOP TOUCHING YOUR NOSE. You’ll get pimples.

Back at the mansion, the kids are playing and… snuggling. If Judy weren’t there this would be the cutest scene ever.

Plato lies down on the floor (on his face) and immediately falls asleep, the way people do in movies. Jim and Judy laugh at his adorable mismatched socks. “Must’ve been a nervous day.”

Then Jim and Judy abandon Plato to go make kissyface. It’s always bothered me that they’re wearing roughly the same shade of lipstick.

Plato wakes up to see The Kids standing over him! Oh no! This isn’t going to be good!

Plato escapes their grasp and jumps into the empty pool, swinging a giant hose at them NINJA-STYLE. This is one tough little kid!

Then he runs back into the house and hides under the piano with his gun.

Eventually he winds up shooting this Kid, who would be Alvin if these three were the Chipmunks.

Jim emerges when he hears the shot and tries to wrestle the gun away from Plato. I am not going to say anything about this shot, because I am a lady.

Meanwhile the Keystone Kops have arrived and chase after Plato, who has run off into the woods. Plato shoots at one of them, which isn’t a good move.

Jim is chasing after Plato, which is kind of dumb since there are cops with guns drawn ready to shoot at the first thing that moves in these woods. Judy finds Jim and tells him that they have to go back to the house and abandon Plato. “He needs us.” “He needed you, maybe. But so do I, Jim!” This is why I hate Judy.

Plato runs all the way to the observatory, which is pretty impressive when you recall how tiny that mansion was in the matte painting.

The cop tries to get Plato to come out, but Plato shoots at him again and the cop draws back. Then more cops arrive and shine their spotlights on the building. When the cop gets caught in the spotlight, this is the face he makes. Not sure why he’s so afraid of BACKUP, but nevertheless, it’s hilarious.

OH HEY! HERE COMES MR. “ANY TIME, NIGHT OR DAY!” NICE OF YOU TO SHOW UP, BUDDY! Jim’s mom in the back cracks me up. This poor woman.

Police swarm the observatory. Jim and Judy endanger their lives and run inside.

Jim opens the door to the planetarium where Plato is hiding. “You can shoot me if you want to.” WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT??

Plato refuses to come out, but Jim manages to find the lightswitch. “Jim? Do you think the end of the world will come at nighttime?” “No. At dawn.” This is foreshadowing for what’s gonna happen in about ten minutes.

Jim plays hostage negotiator and tries to get Plato to come out of hiding, but it doesn’t work. Then Jim turns his back and Plato pops up. AAHHHHHHH WATCH OUT HE’S RIGHT BEHIND Y— Oh wait. It’s not that kind of movie.

Jim tells Plato that they didn’t run out on him. He tells him Judy is there and tries to convince Plato to come outside. “No? Not ready to come out yet?” Again, I am a lady, so I won’t say anything about that line. Wait until 1965 or so. NOT SAYING ANYTHING.

Plato is cold, so Jim gives him his jacket, which Plato sniffs lovingly. YOU GUYS. I MEAN SERIOUSLY. WHAT IS AMBIGUOUS ABOUT THIS.

Jim tries to convince Plato to give him the gun by hypnotizing him with his baby blues.

It works! (Of course it does.)

While Plato isn’t looking, Jim takes the bullets out, then GIVES THE GUN BACK TO PLATO. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to work with the cops!

Jim convinces Plato that his whole fan club in waiting outside. Plato believes him and walks out. The police should hire Jim to do this professionally!

Plato doesn’t want to walk outside because it’s too bright, so Jim asks the cops to dim the lights and make the mood a little more romantic. He probably should have mentioned that that big mean gun Plato is carrying doesn’t have any bullets in it.

Plato comes out, but all those big scary men in uniforms with their guns drawn make him nervous.

When the cops see that Plato still has a gun, they turn all their lights back on. Jim tries to communicate to them that they shouldn’t do that and there’s no reason to worry because he has the bullets, but he can’t say he has the bullets because then Plato would know he broke his trust. HOWEVER, ONE THING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE OTHER AT THIS MOMENT, MAINLY MAKING SURE PLATO DOESN’T GET KILLED. You can deal with your trust issues later!

Plato freaks out. Judy is too much of a girl to hold him back any longer.

Jim makes a dive for him –

– misses –

then informs the cops that he has the bullets. Whoops. That should’ve gone in a different order.

Jim weeps openly over the body of his dead friend.

Plato’s still wearing his cute mismatched socks. Aw.

Jim breaks down. He clutches his father’s leg. “Help me.” “You can depend on me. Trust me. Whatever comes, we’ll face it together. I swear it. Now Jim, stand up. I’ll stand up with you. I’ll try and be as strong as you want me to be.” Oh sure, NOW.

As a touching final gesture, Jim zips up his red jacket on Plato’s lifeless body. “He was always cold.” Especially now.

“Mom, Dad. This is Judy. She’s my friend.”

Wait, what? What is this KNOWING SMILE? A boy just DIED. There is no smiling!

And the world ends, at dawn. Jim’s first day in town didn’t go so well, did it? His mother keeps her word, and the very next day they move to a new town, where Jim is enrolled at Lawson High School. There he meets a bad girl named Jody and a trouble young loner called Socrates. Things do not end well.

Final Thoughts: This is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s got everything you could possibly want in a film. It’s got tragedy, it’s got romance, it’s got suspense. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. It’s got homosexual undertones and overtones. The acting is solid, the cinematography is beautiful, and the directing is epic. The only problem I really have is that it gets a tad misogynistic at times. Jim’s mom is the cause of all his problems, and Plato dies because Judy sucks. But it is nowhere near as bad as the novelization. About a million different people worked on this script, and one, Irving Shulman, also acquired the rights to turn his version of the story into a pulp novel. The result, Children of the Dark, is just about the most vile piece of woman-hating trash I’ve ever read. In it, Plato fantasizes about Jim being captured and tortured by a band of Amazons, and then, back in the real world, he shoots an innocent woman in the head. Jim hires a prostitute and then violently assaults her for no reason. And Plato’s death comes about not because Judy couldn’t hold him back, but because Judy gets upset about not being the center of attention and causes Plato to fall on a hand grenade. WHAT??? Ridiculous, terrible book. But I digress! Rebel Without A Cause, the movie, is really spectacular on every level. The characters are well-written and superbly portrayed. It makes you forget that the entire plot is ridiculous and unrealistic.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955) – 4.5/5 stars


  1. To be honest, I prefer ‘The Wild One’ over ‘Rebel,’ but this was very funny to read.

    Re: the definition of ‘classic’: I know what you mean when you say a classic film doesn’t have to be good for you to like it. I spent over seven years in video retail, and when I first started getting into old movies, I had a similar attitude. I’m a bit more discerning now, but I understand the feeling of embracing old movies because they’re so very different from modern ones. I suppose I lean more towards defining ‘classic’ as old rather than good, but I think you’ll agree that the word ‘classic’ itself has been cheapened over the years.

    • Yes, I do agree with that. Again, this review was written two years ago, but I’m still trying to figure out what “classic” means to me. I just like watching movies made before I was born, darnit!

  2. I am so, So, SO glad to see this up here again. It’s an excellent review, and one of my favorites from the old blog, Movie Dames. I love the insights about the Plato/Jim DEFINITELY MORE THAN FATHER-SON DYNAMIC relationship. How anyone could bring themselves to deny the homoerotic overtones between those two is beyond me. And I’m in total agreement about the annoyance that Judy brings to almost every scene. Had she not been written that way, she might have been a more interesting character, to say nothing of being more likeable and sympathetic. But Dean and Mineo give classic performances which keep the film afloat. Thanks again for re-posting this. I’ve missed it. Great job!

    • Thanks for your devotion, Laurie. :) I wish I could churn out new full-recaps like these but one of the reasons we had to stop the old blog was because it’s JUST. SO. TIME-CONSUMING. We were going nuts trying to push ourselves to put together one of these every week. I’m much happier with the format of my current blog, but I will continue staggering the re-posts of these old reviews. They’re still fun to read, even if they were hell to write. I’ll definitely revisit this format someday, but not as long as I’ve got these old ones sitting around on my computer not doing anything. ;)

  3. Believe it or not, and though this may make me sound like a stalker myself, I’m glad to be on summer vacation so that I can catch up on your blog. Okay, that’s not the only reason; that would make me a crazy person. But I did keep seeing your updates on facebook and wanting to read them but not having time. :) Also, I love the full recap, but I know (from my own handful of incredibly time-consuming zombiekim movie reviews) why you wouldn’t want to do those all the time.
    Anyway. I <3 "He assumes they’re going to race baby chickens for fun and profit, which is all he ever does."

    • That should say “want to read and them and not have time,” but I have a cold and my brain is melty.

  4. I find “Rebel” is not just misogynistic but homophobic in some ways, specifically with the overtly (for the time) gay character having to be killed at the end. The theme of a so-called emasculated father causing the son’s problems rubbed me the wrong way. Actually, Dean himself rubs me the wrong way. Many years ago someone on Usenet commented that in the “you’re tearing me apart” scene, that you can see old pro Jim Backus briefly irritated when Dean turns into “Mr Acting Pants.” So that’s what I always call James Dean now, “Mr Acting Pants.”

    The film has a strange mix of old fashioned conventions with modern acting. It just doesn’t personally work for me, but I’ve never been a fan of disaffected youth.

  5. Paul

     /  June 28, 2011

    Director Nick Ray, a complicated man in uh-huh ways, delivers a tidy pic. Yaah, Dean fusses up all over the place, but he always rivets attention.

  6. Jana L.A.

     /  August 11, 2011

    how funny is that? I had exactly the same thoughts while watching that movie. Great interpretation. :)

  7. Joanie

     /  December 22, 2012

    Your comments about the underlying homosexuality reinforces the idea that homosexuality is the result of messed up family relationships where there’s not a strong masculine role model. Gay men are attracted to men because they’re looking for father figures that they never had. Wake up America, people aren’t born gay, it’s because their families are messed up!!!

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