Rebel Without A Cause

Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo
Written by Stewart Stern and Irving Shulman
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Running time 111 minutes
USA 1955


Sixty years ago James Dean died in an automobile accident. He was only 24 years old and had made just three feature films. His sudden and untimely death caused him to become an icon of teenage culture overnight - thousands of fans showed up at his funeral in Indiana. 

Tonight’s movie Rebel Without A Cause, released just after he died, was the only one of his films for which he received top billing.

Along with Marilyn Monroe, Dean is one of a handful of  stars whose face and style have transcended the generations. He attended the legendary Actors Studio in New York where he was taught by Lee Strasberg. Other celebrated graduates of this great drama school include Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro.

'Rebel Without A Cause - The Hypnoanalysisis of a Criminal Psychopath' was the title of a 1944 book by psychiatrist Robert Lindner. This film however used only the title and tells the story of Jim Stark, a loner who starts at a new school in suburban Los Angeles and falls foul of a gang there - leading to a fatal showdown later that night. Along with Plato and Judy,  two other alienated teens, he takes refuge in a deserted mansion…

Made by one of Hollywood’s most fascinating outsider directors Nicholas Ray, Rebel is still fresh and provocative and features a clutch of terrific performances by its young cast. Ray’s other work includes intense crime dramas such as They Live By Night and the extraordinary ‘Freudian' western Johnny Guitar but  Rebel Without A Cause is by far his best known picture. The film has often been said to have invented the modern idea of the teenager and went on have a profound effect on popular youth culture - it is impossible to imagine great tranches of  modern cinema had Rebel never been made. Dean’s naturalistic performing style would be imitated for decades to come and is still very visible in much movie acting today.

This beautiful restored version highlights the  striking cinemascope photography  by Ernest Haller in which the use of colour is particularly strong. Watch out for Dennis Hopper in an early role as one of the gang members. 

In a strange footnote  Dean’s two young co-stars would also go on to suffer premature deaths - Natalie Wood drowning at 43 while Sal Mineo was only 37 years old when he was stabbed to death in a random attack.