Sunday, October 09, 2011

"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) - Movie Review

“Rebel without a Cause” is truly a film that belonged to the 50s and looses its current audience for being so. Film critic often repeats “movies do not change, people do” and it cannot be more clear on this one. The characters, actions and the interpretations vary widely enough to see a complete different film than what Nicholas Ray intended and what James Dean performed. Yet it has its core intact which tells about a generation on the cusp of having to want, feel and realize more than the previous generation who had so many worries financially and being mum that they were happy to be alive. It only has gotten further and further into generation and generation on pondering on their existence and the purpose of doing things and understanding the right thing and actually doing it.

James Dean is a teenager named Jim Stark though he looks like a college student. When we meet him as the credits are shown, he is drunk and laying on the ground playing with a disregarded doll. He is taken into juvenile police station where we also meet two other teenagers. One is Judy (Natalie Wood), clearly beseeching for dad’s affection. Then there is Plato played by Sal Mineo and man I would love to hear what the original viewers of this film thought about him. Each of them get to talk with Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) and we get where these kids are in their lives. When you hear “Why did you shoot the puppies” from Ray towards Plato, you know what you are getting into.

The introduction to these three characters at the juvenile division in the police provides a setting that you expect more of these troubled nights but Nicholas Ray has plans of things unfurling in next couple of days to learn lessons in hard way and wondering what is the teenage angst would result in. That we are still witnessing tells more about our evolving humans having a core that is beautiful and scary.

James Dean who was killed in an auto accident before the release of this film achieved iconic status through this film which has survived half a century and continues to keep going. He is throughly an actor of presence and that explains the status he achieved with very few films. He is dramatic and nowhere near as a great actor but there was the potential that would have matured to be as Marlon Brandon. Dying young is a terrible thing and we would never know what would have come off him as the times passed and films evolved.

Having the power of presence like Dean, one would not be surprised on why Plato is instantly in awe of his character Jim Stark. Jim is a kind teenager offering help, smile and snappy remarks. He offers his coat to Plato at the start which the disturbed kid does not accept but that act sticks to his soul. Soon we learn that Plato’s parents are nowhere to be there and it is his house keeper to take care of him. It is not the case for Jim who has as the norm states, loving parents. He has a car, stylish clothes to impress Judy and more but he wants his loving father to stand up for himself and then for Jim against a mother who is controlling and dismissive. This becomes the spur to the actions Jim makes in the rest of the film.

Jim’s father is played by Jim Backus with a borderline comic undertone. He is a weak man unable to maintain the heroic status Jim grew up with from his actions and dialogues. And Judy is a troubled young girl expecting the same kind of intimate affection from his father though she is becoming a woman now. Unable to express that part to his mother, she becomes a trouble of her own. She gangs up with fellow school bullies Buzz (Corey Allen) and others. The next day when Jim enters his first school day, the events lead to a tragedy.

“Rebel Without a Cause” while provides an insight into the times and the budding teenagers wanting more out of their life, it is stuck by the disconnect in the film making with the current audience. The moods and emotions shift randomly. One minute there is a loss of a life in a silly game and the other minute the couple are in love in an abandoned mansion. The greatest of all is the character of Plato. Plato played by Sal Mineo with a creepiness is disturbing and travels into the zones of derangement. While the interpretation of Plato wanting to be in a family seeing Jim and Judy as his parents, it cannot be denied that Plato is a homosexual having infatuations towards Jim. Whether this is the untold undertone Nicholas Ray went for is unknown but it cannot be more obvious. The film while does not hold up to the time is a landmark on the controversial nature of its material for that time and a life that was not fully lived in James Dean.

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