Friday, February 8, 2013

# 96: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Code-name: red jacket

Strangely when I was making up code-names to keep a record of away from my PC, I completely skipped this one.
But everyone knows the iconic red jacket featured in this film.

Director: Nicholas Ray
Type: Drama

Jim Stark- James Dean
Plato- Sal Mineo
Judy- Natalie Wood

Oscar Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor Sal Mineo
Best Supporting Actress Natalie Wood
Best Writing

(warning: spoilers ahead)


I don't know how or where, but I'd heard about this movie a couple of times. As well as James Dean. All in the name, but I knew next to nothing about why these were so big in their day. Heck, I didn't even know that James Dean was particularly famous FOR "Rebel Without a Cause"

When today's movies get a little too repetitive, formulaic and whatnot, I sometimes find myself going back in time. Either to get an education about how films used to run, getting to know some older actors and just for the sake of authenticity... that's something lacking these days, especially when you have the millionth sequel to "Fast & Furious" and "Step Up" and countless horror movies hitting the theater every year.

Sure, I ought to check out a little more James Dean, but I doubt it'll get any better than this. 
He was only 24 at the time, but he looked like a true vintage movie star. He had an air about him you can respect. 

Despite the archetype of his character, being a kid that appears rough around the edges, he's a very good guy. He always wants to do the right thing even when the odds always seem to be against him.

We're introduced to our three young stars early on. All are seen at the same police station, hauled in for some transgression.
Jim Stark for public drunkenness, Plato for (according to one of the officers) shooting some puppies, and Judy from trying to run away from home. Clearly, their home lives are less than satisfying.

Jim is the new kid in town (according to some dialogue, this isn't the first time in recent months) and because of that, the main gang in the school targets him.
What's a little strange is that Plato immediately idolizes Jim, telling Judy (who's asking about him) all about him... even though he'd only had maybe two interactions with him. One at the police station where Jim offers him his coat (and he refused) and the other at the school.

After the planetarium field trip, the gang challenges Jim to a knife fight, which is more theatrical than it needed to be. One thing I came away after this movie was that the music was WAY over the top with the dramatics. I mean, it was ridiculous and really unnecessary.
One thing you kinda learned from this scene is not to call Jim "chicken" because he'll have no choice but to accept a challenge.

Most likely, that mentality comes from home. His dad is always yielding to whatever his mom says. She is overly worried about what other people think of their family so whenever something goes wrong that draws negative attention to them (or it looks that way), her only solution is to move.
He constantly tells his dad to stand up for himself and it takes until the very end for him to do that. The blunt way to put it is that his dad is a complete wuss and if the scene where he's doing a conversation with him while wearing an apron doesn't bring that home, nothing will. 

Judy's situation is that she doesn't get along with her father. There are only a couple scenes of their place. He keeps telling her to start acting like a young lady so he rejects any affection she wants to give him. The big contrast to that is her younger brother who we see bringing his toys to the dinner table and making a ruckus in doing so... and he gets away with it.

Plato, it would appear, really has nobody except for the family maid. His father left his family and his mom's dead. As the movie progresses, you see him become more and more unhinged because he has nobody looking out for him.

The planetarium knife fight leads to a chicken race where Jim and Buzz, the leader of the gang, are driving old cars to the edge of a cliff... and Buzz gets killed because he's unable to bail in time.
Jim wants to do the right thing and go to the police to turn himself in. But of course his mother is in a panic about it, not wanting him to go, and threatening to uproot the family again. 

Eventually, all three kids end up running away to this abandoned mansion. Plato begins to paint a picture of how Jim and Judy could be his new parents and they could live there together as a family.
That really threw me for a loop, wondering if there was something off with this kid mentally if he's going off to fantasy land like that.

Other members of the gang show up and Plato starts to go out of control. He shoots one of them in self-defense, believing him to be dead. 

The climax occurs when Plato shuts himself in the planetarium and refuses to come out. He gets so sensitive that he refuses to cooperate unless the cops turn out all their spotlights. 
Nothing ever comes good out of a stand-off. If anyone was going to die on screen, I would have pegged James Dean, but it was Plato in the case of a misunderstanding. The police thought he was armed, but Jim had removed the bullets from the gun.

A lot of this movie's legacy derives from all the tragedies that befell the cast.
James Dean in that car crash.
Natalie Wood in that boating accident, recently reclassified as "undetermined"
Sal Mineo in a stabbing (a case of him being at the wrong place at the wrong time).

Considering how the Academy likes to give up some posthumous Oscars, I'm surprised James Dean didn't get a nomination for this (he supposedly died a month before its release). If not that, I just thought he did the character really well. The supporting cast didn't impress me quite as much.
It's kinda sad how Sal Mineo was kind of an unknown and still is to a degree. At first glance, I thought he was a dead ringer for Ralph Maccachio, especially when he played Johnny in "The Outsiders." 

Even more interesting is how this movie was colorized. I believed that the studio decided on color because the red jacket was such an integral piece of the story (at the end, Jim puts it on Plato and zips it up).
IMDB says that some scenes were shot in black and white and the studio later decided to do the whole move in color... the reason cited was to prevent comparisons to "Blackboard Jungle" which takes place at a high school and also involves a league of delinquents, but it isn't quite the same story.
Also, Jim Stark was originally written as a nerd with a brown jacket and they changed it to red when the decision was made to shoot the film in color.

Other than the music being over the top and it running slow at times, I thought it was a really good movie. Although some of my love for it goes down to how it was iconic for its time, gotta respect some films for that reason. 

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