As part of the movie project, I decided to watch the movie Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean, released in 1955. Everyone has heard about it, if only because James Dean generally embodies the spirit of his generation and, having died young, became an icon. The film title refers to the book by Robert Lindner, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath, even though it carries no reference to it. The filming started in black and white and was eventually switched to color.
Scenario goes as follows (and yes, James Dean is gorgeous and sexy, but what’s the point of saying it for the millionth time):
Night – Jimmy is at the police station, drunk and unhappy
Morning – He tries to talk to a girl who ignores him (how someone can ignore James dean is beyond my understanding, but out of scope)
Afternoon – He goes on a class trip and fights with the “cool” kids
Evening – Takes part into the “chickie run” and Buzz dies
Later that night – the girl declares her unconditional and everlasting love for Jimmy, Plato loses it, Jimmy and his parents make up, the girlfriend is introduced to the parents, and all is well in the world. Boom, the end.
Man, if things were that easy nowadays!!!!!! Jokes aside, I tried to put it back in the context of the 1950s, when the movie was released. In the context of that time, this movie was very likely a shock – trying to “portray the moral decay of American youth, critique parental style, and explore the differences and conflicts between generations”. Again, no need here to get into psychology, search for the father, etc….
I was not excessively impressed by the storyline, and I suspect why: nowadays movies are so much more straightforward, more violent, uncensored, that this felt a little like a movie for kids (today’s kids!). So, I dug a little deeper, to see the story around the movie and the cast, and gathered some interesting facts. Funny enough, there were attempts to create a film version of Lindner’s book in the late 1940s, without a film or a full script being produced. In 1947, Marlon Brando did a screen test for a possible role in a potential film version of Rebel. In the end, the film was the result of a new script written in the 1950s that had nothing to do with the Brando test. And guess what! The screen test is included on the DVD of the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire!
It seems the filming of the movie was about as scandalous as the movie itself: Nicholas Ray, the director, was notoriously bisexual and started an affair with 16-year old Natalie Wood, who then went into a simultaneous relationship with Dennis Hopper (Speed, Cool Hand Luke,…). Ray is also rumored to have had an affair with Sal Mineo, who plays Plato in the movie, and is the (self-proclaimed) “first gay teenager on film”.
There is some irony to it though: in the 1950s, movies were, as I mentioned, full of symbolism but never too explicit, however behind the scenes was a whole world of sex, drugs and alcohol that was more or less public knowledge. Nowadays movies are more than explicit, but the lives of directors and actors is much more discreet, and they always send a very polished public image.
A classic, yes, a cultural must, yes, but I found the stories behind the scenes more fascinating than the movie itself. I cannot halp wondering though: would this film have achieved the same fame if its charismatic star has not died in a dramatic accident one month before the release?