“I don’t know what to do anymore. Except maybe die.”
While I immensely enjoy old movies, much of the time I don’t find them exciting. That is not a bad thing at all and the simpler feel of a golden era of cinema is just as enjoyable as modern films. But if a film from 60 years ago succeeds in being both a classic and gripping then it should most certainly be applauded. This is just the type of film that Rebel Without a Cause is.
Rebel Without a Cause is the story of the new troublemaker in town, Jim Stark. It starts at night when Jim is picked up and taken to the police station for public drunkenness. Just this opening scene, and James Dean’s acting in it, is a masterpiece in itself. As he cries and spills his heart to the officer, telling him about his family troubles, he expresses such true emotions that are nothing short of believable and really makes your heart ache for him. This scene also sets the stage for Dean’s character Jim. Another moment in the opening scene shows Jim offering his coat to a shivering boy in the station, Plato whom he later befriends. This moment is crucial in that it shows Jim’s true colors and reveals the heart of a kind and caring person.
The rest of the film follows Jim on his first day of school in which he finds trouble with the group of popular guys, partakes in a “chickie run”, makes friends with the endearingly odd Plato, meets a girl, and sees two people die, all in the space of a day. Though the deaths of two characters is taken lighter than seems realistic, it gives a darker twist to Rebel Without a Cause than would be expected.
Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood were both nominated for Academy Awards for their performances but James Dean is the real star and centerpiece for which the film is crafted around. Sal Mineo as Plato and Natalie Wood as Judy were excellent but the Oscar nod should have gone to Dean who’s acting is seamless and every emotion he portrays is genuine. He is Jim. It poses the question of where his great talent could have taken his career if he would have lived to star in more than three films.
What makes Rebel Without a Cause such a masterpiece is that it tells a classic coming of age, high school story minus the excessive sex, drugs and strong language so prominent in films of today. Though knife fights and chickie runs are not quite model behavior, there is something so much more innocent to Rebel Without a Cause than the typical teen stories of today. Even Jim, labeled the rebel who has been in his share of trouble, has a sweetness about him hinting that he isn’t as much of a bad boy as his parents think. But then again, in the 1950’s, the bar for ‘bad’ kids was set much lower.
Rebel Without a Cause succeeds in being entertaining even without raunchy content. It’s an epic film in t’s own way with a well written story framed by remarkable acting. It truly feels timeless, even after six decades.