Wednesday, August 22, 2018
2018 Blind Spot Series: Rebel Without a Cause
Directed by Nicholas Ray and screenplay by Stewart Stern from a story by Ray with adaptation by Irving Shulman, Rebel Without a Cause is the story of a teenager who arrives to a new town as he has trouble with his new environment where he often encounters trouble. The film is a look into a troubled young man as he deals with his own conflicts with his parents, ideals, and all sorts of things while trying to find himself. Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Dennis Hopper, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, and William Hopper. Rebel Without a Cause is a riveting and evocative film from Nicholas Ray.
The film follows the day in the life of a young man who had just moved to a new town where he finds himself getting in trouble as he’s being challenged to a chicken race while dealing with his own family life believing his parents don’t understand his anguish. It plays into this man who isn’t just dealing with the fact that he couldn’t do the right things but often keeps doing things the wrong way as he’s targeted by other kids who would get him into trouble. Stewart Stern’s screenplay doesn’t just follow the trouble that the film’s protagonist Jim Stark (James Dean) goes through during the course of the day but also a couple of other young teens who would be at a police precinct like Stark late at night. Judy (Natalie Wood) is a teenager who is picked up by the police for breaking curfew as she claims to be unloved by her father who says awful things to her while John “Plato” Crawford (Sal Mineo) was taken to the police for shooting puppies with his mother’s gun as both of his parents aren’t home.
Stark is a young man that lives in a somewhat dysfunctional home as his father Frank (Jim Backus) is often more concerned with wanting to be his buddy rather than be a father while his mother Carol (Ann Doran) is always upset over what her son does and often feels the best solution is to move to another town. It’s a pattern that becomes too common for Stark as he has just arrived to Los Angeles unsure of what to do and who to socialize with. Especially when Judy’s boyfriend Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) notices him and decides to push him around leading to a chicken race with cars where things don’t go well at all. Even as Stark is convinced that he’s cursed though he is able to get some sympathy early in the film from Inspector Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) who got to see up close what Stark’s parents are like as he offers to help him.
Nicholas Ray’s direction is definitely ravishing for the way he captures the life of a troubled teenager in Los Angeles where the film is shot on location though the school that Stark and others attend is shot on location in Santa Monica, California. Ray’s direction through the usage of the Cinemascope widescreen format allows him to take great usage of the wide shots of the locations including a few key scenes at the Griffith Observatory that would play in a scene where Stark is confronted by Gunderson and his gang and the film’s climax. Yet, Ray would emphasize on medium shots and close-ups including some unique compositions that play into the struggles of Stark, Judy, and Plato in the film’s sequence at the police precinct. Ray’s would shoot someone like Plato meeting Inspector Fremick in a medium shot in the foreground while Stark is seen in the background as it’s among these unique visuals that Ray would create along with scenes at home with some stylish camera angles to play into Stark’s anguish over his parents’ inability to help him.
Ray would also create these moments of intrigue in the compositions as it relates to how Plato looks at Stark that definitely provides subtle ideas that Plato is gay as it was considered taboo during the 1950s in which the film was made and set in. The sense of drama that happens for much of the film has Ray create some carefully crafted compositions in the way he positions his actors but also play into moments that are intense such as the aftermath of the chicken race. The film’s climax which relates to Gunderson’s gang trying to find Stark as well as Plato add to the sense of heightened drama as well as this chance of Stark to try and bring some kind of meaning to his life in helping Plato. Overall, Ray crafts a rapturous and exhilarating film about a young man’s search for meaning in his young teenage life.
Cinematographer Ernest Haller does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of vibrant colors from the way much of the daytime exterior scenes look to the interior scene set at the Griffith Observatory as well as how the colors appear in the Cinemascope film format. Editor William H. Ziegler does excellent work with the editing as it help play into some of the dramatic tension as well as bits of the suspense during the chicken race scene. Art director Malcolm C. Bert and set decorator William Wallace does fantastic work with the interiors of the Stark family home as well as the homes of Judy and Plato and the abandoned mansion that Plato mentioned nearby the Griffith Observatory.
Costume designer Moss Mabry does amazing work with the costumes from the red jacket Stark would wear for the film’s second half as well as the clothes that Gunderson and his gang wore as well as the dresses that Judy wore throughout the film. The sound work of Stanley Jones is terrific for its natural approach to sound as well as a few sound effects that play into moments in the drama. The film’s music by Leonard Rosenman is incredible for its somber yet soaring orchestral score that help heighten the drama as well as the anguish from Stark, Judy, and Plato in their home lives.
The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Ian Wolfe as the astronomy professor Dr. Minton, Frank Mazzola and Jack Grinnage as a couple of Gunderson’s goons in their respective roles in Crunch and Moose, Virginia Brissac as Stark’s grandmother, Marietta Canty as Plato’s family maid who is concerned for his well-being, William Hopper and Rochelle Hudson as Judy’s parents, Dennis Hopper as a member of Gunderson’s gang in Goon, and Edward Platt in a superb performance as Inspector Ray Fremick as a sympathetic police official who is trying to understand the anguish and angst of Stark, Judy, and Plato in the film’s precinct sequence as he interrogates all three of them individually early in the film. Corey Allen is terrific as Buzz Gunderson as Judy’s boyfriend who is also the head of a high school gang that wants to push Stark around though he also shows a sensitive side just before the chicken race knowing that he doesn’t want to kill anyone.
Jim Backus and Ann Doran are fantastic in their respective roles as Stark’s parents in Frank and Carol Stark as a couple who have a hard time trying to understand their son with Frank wanting to help but be more of a friend while Carol is a more stern and not wanting to confront the real issues at hand. Sal Mineo is brilliant as John “Plato” Crawford as a young man who is sensitive and lost due to not having his parents around as he finds a sense of companionship in Stark where he subtly provides ideas of homosexuality in his fascination toward Stark. Natalie Wood is amazing as Judy as a young woman who feels unloved by her father as well as unsure of what to do as she hangs out with Buzz for companionship only to become fascinated by Stark whom she would fall for. Finally, there’s James Dean in a tremendous performance as Jim Stark as this young man that is dealing with uncertainty about himself and his family where Dean displays a mixture of anguish and charm into a role that is definitely an iconic performance in cinema.
Rebel Without a Cause is an outstanding film from Nicholas Ray that features great performances from James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. Along with its gorgeous visuals, a superb ensemble cast, a mesmerizing script, and a sweeping orchestral score. It’s a film that play into the world of teen angst and uncertainty told in the span of a day in the eyes of a young man that doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere in the world. In the end, Rebel Without a Cause is a magnificent film from Nicholas Ray.
Nicholas Ray Films: (They Live By Night) – (Knock on Any Door) – (A Woman’s Secret) – In a Lonely Place - (Born to Be Bad) – (Flying Leathernecks) – (On Dangerous Ground) – (The Lusty Men) – Johnny Guitar - (Run for Cover) – (Hot Blood) – (Bigger Than Life) – (The True Story of Jesse James) – (Bitter Victory) – (Wind Across the Everglades) – (Party Girl (1958 film)) – (The Savage Innocents) – (King of Kings) – (55 Days at Peking) – (We Can’t Go Home Again) – (Lightning Over Water)
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