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Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

The bad boy from a good family.

Directed by:

Nicholas Ray

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 111 minutes

US Certificate: Not Rated UK Certificate: PG

Jim Stark (James Dean), a “kid” from a stable family background with little really to complain about other than the fact that his dad insists on wearing an apron, is the “rebel without a cause” – or “chav”, as his modern-day equivalents are known. The only thing is, it soon becomes apparent over the course of this legendary piece of 50s cinema that he’s not actually all that rebellious. In fact, for the most part, Jim seems to be a fairly decent sort of bloke. ‘Slight Attention-Seeker Without a Cause’ would probably have been a much more accurate title.

Anyway, the story all starts when Jim’s folks move to a new town in a bid to give him a fresh start. His mum fixes him a packed lunch and he heads off for his first day at school – complete with facial shadow, a slightly-receding hairline, and WEARING A SUIT!!! (Did I mention the fact that he’s CLEARLY in his mid-20s??).

No sooner is he out the door than the local gang of ne’er-do-wells have taken a bit of a disliking to him. They’re a rowdy lot, getting up to all sorts of pesky behaviour such as letting down car tyres, cutting off each other’s shirt-buttons with knives, and dishing out inaccurate directions to strangers. The crazy kids!! But it’s one particular after-school activity – the “chicken run” – which is to prove the catalyst for the real trouble. Jim gets invited along, there’s an horrendous accident, and before you can say “clunk click every trip” he’s on the run from the angry gang members, with a puppy-shooting hanger-on (Sal Mineo) and girlie (Natalie Wood) in tow.

‘Rebel Without a Cause’ is, of course, the sort of flick you have to try to put into context. Sure, much of the dialogue is laughable (at one point the gang ringleader calls Jim a “poop-head”. To his face!!! He must have a deathwish!!) and a lot of the supposedly-threatening behaviour is incredibly tame by today’s standards. But, despite its several faults and its undoubtedly misleading title, this is an engrossing film featuring vivid colours and a deservedly-acclaimed performance from lead-man Dean (who, both tragically and ironically, was killed in a car crash a month before its original release). Now back in cinemas to mark its 50th anniversary, its audience and impact may be considerably smaller, but its quality remains the same.

It's Got: A “chicken run”, which involves two blokes driving stolen cars towards a cliff, and the first one to jump for safety being named a “chicken” (oh no, anything but that!). I wonder if anyone ever considered the fact that you could win quite easily by just driving REALLY slowly?

It Needs: To explain why Jim isn’t wearing his iconic red jacket on the poster.

Alternatives:

East of Eden

Summary

It’s dated, sure – but there’s still plenty of cause for all movie-lovers to check this one out.