Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – Nicholas Ray

The next film that I dove into for DK Canada’s The Movie Book is the James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause, from 1955.

Dean is brilliantly vulnerable as the teen Jim Stark, who is growing up in a troubled home, clashing with his parents, Frank (Jim Backus) and Carol (Ann Doran), and also dealing with being the new kid in town.

He falls in love with Judy (Natalie Wood) – who is having parent issues of her own, pals up with young, smart, Plato (Sal Mineo).

Things get even worse when things go bad in a car contest of chicken that results in the death of Judy’s boyfriend, even as she finds herself attracted to Jim.

Parents don’t listen, everyone argues, it’s teen angst, even as Jim tries to find his way out of the trouble he is in. The title is a but of a mistake, as he very much does have a cause, the truth, he wants to do the right thing, get the word out, trying to be a man of honour.

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His father never contradicts his mother, and never stands up for Jim. As paradigms shift, he tries to understand what it means to grow up, to find his way, to be able to respect himself.

As the young thugs in the local gang try to keep Jim from going to the cops, they seize on his new friends, and it all spirals to a violent, inescapable, tragic conclusion.

The film remains pertinent, and poignant, an ode to youth, the desire to do right, and the pain we cause those around us through both our actions and inaction. The film continues to resonate through the ages, entertaining, and informing down through the decades, and while the styles may have changed, the essence, the spirit of the picture, and the characters caught up in it are recognisable to a fault.

Despite being a little old to portray the teenager he was meant to be, the role became iconic for Dean, opening a month after his untimely death. And even if it had not been released after his death, I think it would still have become a signature role for him.

A strong story (all of it takes place within twenty-four hours), fantastic performances, poignant moments, iconic locations, Rebel Without a Cause remains a timeless film, that serves as a rite of passage for every cinephile, and revisiting it at various ages allows you to draw something different out of it each time you view it.

This and other amazing titles can be found in DK Books’ The Movie Book, pick one up and find some classic cinema to watch tonight!

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