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Nicholas Ray
James Dean, Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson
Writing Credits:
Nicholas Ray (story), Irving Shulman (adaptation), Stewart Stern

... and they both come from 'good' families!

Teen Jimmy Stark (James Dean) struggles to find an identity in the face of a nagging mother and a spineless father, getting into knife fights and other trouble. After a tragic, lethal car race, he meets up with generally good girl Judy (Natalie Wood) and geeky, needy Plato (Sal Mineo) and the three form a surrogate family of sorts. Of course, the bad boys are still after them, and the evening ends in tragedy.

Box Office:
$1.5 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.55:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Monaural

Runtime: 111 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 9/21/1999

• “Discovering a Rebel” Featurette
• 3 Segments from “Warner Bros. Presents” TV Series
• Trailers
• Cast and Crew


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 11, 2005)

For many of us who weren’t born until long after the Fifties ended, we’ve been stuck with a Happy Days view of the decade. It always has been portrayed as a very clean-cut, innocent time with none of the angst or rebellion apparent during the more turbulent Sixties.

As such, it comes as a mild surprise to find movies like Rebel Without a Cause which demonstrate that not all was well at the time. The movie focuses on Jim Stark (James Dean), a troubled teen whose activities have forced his family to bop from town to town. At the start of the film, he’s drunk and disorderly in his new burg, and when the cops haul him in, he briefly meets two folks who will soon become prominent in his life: Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo). Both have their own issues, though it’s quickly made clear that Plato is easily the screwiest of the bunch.

The film doesn’t really feature much of a story, but it focuses on Jim’s problems as he attempts to integrate into a new school and town. Though parts of the movie seem pretty dated, I was surprised at how timeless this look at troubled youth really was. The concerns that confronted Jim and the others remain for kids of our age; although we tend to look at the Fifties as a time of banal innocence, it’s clear that many of the same issues occurred back then, and Rebel effectively illustrates these concerns.

Somewhat surprisingly - given the Father Knows Best close-knit aura of the decade - virtually all of the kids’ problems relate to their parents. Jim lacks a strong male role model; his dad (Jim Backus) is present in the home but he’s clearly dominated by his wife (Ann Doran) and it requires severe concerns on the part of Jim to make Mr. Stark finally take a stand. The family problems faced by Judy are less clear, but it’s obvious they exist, while Plato’s issues relate to the absence of family; his parents are never around and he’s left to the care of a nanny (Marietta Canty).

As seems to be typical of many teen-oriented films of the era, the kids are the ones who are self-aware and on top of things while the adults are clueless and self-absorbed; a similar theme appeared even in The Blob. I don’t know how realistic this attitude is, but it adds to the unexpected flavor of the period’s movies. It’s another aspect of Fifties flicks that I didn’t really expect, and it adds an unusual tone to the picture as the adults consistently ruin the progress achieved by the kids.

Despite some dated aspects, Rebel works because it does seem generally timeless, and the acting helps make it more convincing. Even more so than with Marilyn Monroe, Dean has become such an icon that it can be difficult to view him as an actor. Folks of my generation have much greater acquaintance with the poster idol than with the performer. In any case, Dean offers a strong performance as Jim, who he makes believably tough and vulnerable at the same time. Dean’s work helps carry the film and makes it more memorable and convincing than it otherwise might have been, and the other actors also add good work.

My only problem with a character related to Plato, mainly due to a “hot button” issue for me. Potential spoiler in the upcoming opinion: early in the film, we learn that Plato has killed some puppies. Sorry, but that action immediately made it impossible for me to have any sympathy for the character. I adore dogs and can’t stand to learn of their mistreatment. I understand that Plato’s actions were the result of his pathology, but I just can’t excuse puppy-killing. The boy got what he deserved!

Despite that aspect of the film, I still found Rebel Without A Cause to be a “classic” that actually deserves its praise. The movie provided a fairly deep and convincing exploration of “youth gone wrong” and it succeeded due to some good acting and the timelessness of its subject.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Rebel Without a Cause appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without some concerns, the transfer looked quite good.

Sharpness usually worked fine. A smidgen of softness occurred, mostly due to some moderate edge enhancement. However, the flick came across as pretty distinctive the majority of the time. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, however, and print flaws were very minor for such an old film. I saw a couple of speckles and one or two instances of grit plus some light grain at times, but little that would cause me concern. I did think the flick had a bit of a rough “digital” look on occasion, though.

Colors mostly seemed solid. I thought some flesh tones appeared slightly pale and pink, but as a whole the hues were fairly deep and strong. Otherwise the tones tended to be fairly lively and dynamic.

Most of the blacks demonstrated good definition, and those elements were pretty dense and tight. Shadows worked acceptably well too. Occasionally they were a little too dense, but the low-light shots largely came across fine. The image lacked the excellence required for an “A” grade, but it satisfied.

The film’s remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed better than average for the era. The soundfield didn’t do a lot to spread the audio across the speakers, but the score benefited from the extra channels. Throughout the film, the music displayed very nice stereo separation and imaging. Some effects also appeared from the right and left side speakers at times, and they even showed some mildly-positive panning.

The surrounds seemed largely inactive. They provided light reinforcement of the music but virtually nothing else. Ultimately, the soundfield appeared unspectacular but was appropriate for a remix such as this.

Audio quality sounded fine for material of this age. Dialogue could be slightly thin and wan but displayed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. I should note that Rebel suffered from some terrible looping, as a lot of lines obviously came from the studio. Effects were similarly thin but came across as acceptably realistic, and even louder sounds showed no distortion. Music lacked much brightness, but the score seemed reasonably clear and distinct, and it showed fairly nice low end at times. The track lacked any noticeable hiss or noise. As a whole, the audio for Rebel was nothing extraordinary but it seemed to have held up well over the years.

In addition, the DVD of Rebel Without a Cause includes a smattering of supplemental features, most of which are included in an area called “The Observatory”. We start with Rediscovering a Rebel, a fine featurette about the film. Actually, that’s an inaccurate description, since this nine-minute and 25-second program doesn’t attempt to provide a general history of the project.

Instead, this piece covers some “lost” footage from the film. We see shots from the original black and white production (the movie quickly changed to color after a few days of B&W), some deleted scenes, and various screen-test material. Every minute of this brief program is compelling; it’s a short but terrific little piece.

Next are three short features that all come from a similar source. From what appears to have been a Fifties TV program called Warner Bros. Presents Behind the Cameras, we get three segments that include some general information about Rebel plus interviews with a few principals. The first one talks with Natalie Wood and lasts seven minutes and 55 seconds, while the second features Jim Backus and runs five minutes and 45 seconds. The last one includes Dean and goes for seven minutes and 40 seconds.

Don’t mistake these for continual interviews. Especially in the case of the Wood piece, much of the footage looks at other areas of the film; the interviews can be quite minor. The Backus and Dean segments are longer, however, and in the case of the latter, quite spooky; I’ll leave the details for you to discover yourself, but Dean’s comments clearly enter the territory of “creepy” when viewed in retrospect. One note: the pre-interview parts of both the Backus and Dean clips are virtually identical; only the conversations themselves differ. In any case, I liked these pieces and thought they offered a very interesting look at the movie.

The last extras in the “Observatory” are some trailers. We get the theatrical promos for all of Dean’s major films: Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and East of Eden. For reasons unknown, the Rebel trailer plays at a volume much louder than that of the other ads or anything else in the “Observatory”, for that matter. Be forewarned!

Cast and Crew provides short but useful biographies for Dean, Wood and director Nicholas Ray. As is typical of many Warner Bros. DVDs, we also see other participants listed on this page, but the three folks mentioned above are the only ones who have accessible entries.

Although it probably should seem pathetically dated, Rebel Without A Cause generally holds up very well. The movie provides a solid look at the era’s youth culture and the problems faced by teens. Largely due to some excellent performances, the movie remains moving and convincing many decades later. The DVD offers above-average picture and sound and some decent extras. Rebel Without A Cause is a fine movie and terrific DVD that merits your attention.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE