Nicholas Ray's juvenile-delinquent film (originally a vehicle for Marlon Brando) opened after the death of its star James Dean in a car crash and made Dean into an icon of rebellion. The storyline takes place over a 24-hour period and follows Jim Stark (Dean), a restless teenager always in trouble with the law. His mother smothers him, while his father is weak and ineffectual and the family has only recently moved to Los Angeles to try and save Jim from a life of crime. However, when Jim is picked up for being drunk and disorderly he notices Judy (Natalie Wood) at the police station and determines to ask her on a date at high school the next day. This leads him into conflict with Judy's boyfriend, Buzz (Corey Allen). He is determined to prove himself with his new found 'friends' by taking part in switchblade fights and a 'chickie' game where cars race to the edge of a seaside cliff.
When people think of James Dean, they probably think first of the troubled teen from Rebel Without a Cause
: nervous, volatile, soulful, a kid lost in a world that does not understand him. Made between his only other starring roles, in East of Eden
sums up the jangly, alienated image of Dean, but also happens to be one of the key films of the 1950s. Director Nicholas Ray takes a strikingly sympathetic look at the teenagers standing outside the white-picket-fence 50s dream of America: juvenile delinquent (that's what they called them then) Jim Stark (Dean), fast-girl Judy (Natalie Wood), lost-boy Plato (Sal Mineo), slick hot-rodder Buzz (Corey Allen). At the time, it was unusual for a movie to endorse the point of view of teenagers, but Ray and screenwriter Stewart Stern captured the youthful angst that was erupting at the same time in rock 'n' roll. Dean is heartbreaking, following the method-acting style of Marlon Brando but staking out a nakedly emotional honesty of his own. Going too fast, in every way, he was killed in a car crash on September 30, 1955, a month before Rebel
opened. He was no longer an actor, but an icon, and Rebel
is a lasting monument. --Robert Horton, Amazon.com