In this powerful study of juvenile violence, Dean is riveting as a teenager groping for love from a society he finds alien and oppressive. This film forever linked Dean to the restless 1950s generation; even though the indicted parents are caricatures, it's the best of its kind. Dean is
Jim, a troublemaker who has caused his parents to move from one town to another before settling in L.A. Much of Jim's problem stems from the smothering but superficial love he receives from his domineering mother (Doran) and weak-willed father (Backus). Waiting at the police station after being
picked up for being drunk and disorderly, he notices Judy (Wood), a girl taken in for walking the streets after curfew, and Plato (Mineo), a disturbed rich kid brought in for killing a litter of puppies. Entering his new high school the next day, Jim spots Judy and asks her for a date. She rejects
him and drives off with her hot-rodding, black leather-jacketed boyfriend Buzz (Allen). Jim and Buzz later get into a knife fight, and Jim finally accepts Buzz's challenge in which both boys drive cars at breakneck speed to the edge of a cliff, diving out before they go over the edge. Whoever
jumps out first is, of course, considered a coward. The game has surprising results.
The mundane plot is somehow made forceful in this directorial gem. Perfectionist director Ray spent hours researching hundreds of teenage police cases before filming. Transcending what might have been merely a teen exploitation film, REBEL draws heavily upon the presence of the intense and
fascinating Dean. The young actor's appearance here electrified audiences, especially teenagers, who identified with this powerful symbol of their alienated generation. There is much of Marlon Brando's character from THE WILD ONE (1953), and critics accused Dean of mimicking Brando's brooding,
mumbling delivery, but Dean was later recognized as an actor of singular stature. Wood and Mineo, although fine in their roles, serve mainly as dramatic foils for Dean's brooding. Many adults saw the film as promoting violence; with this picture the clean-cut juvenile ideal of yore moved into the
adult world of film noir. Warners executives initially proposed, of all people, Tab Hunter and Jayne Mansfield (it would have been a classic, but of another kind). Ray, however, insisted upon Dean and Wood. He had been impressed by Dean's work in EAST OF EDEN, and drove the actor mercilessly on
The tragedy of the film was relived offscreen, as all three principals died prematurely. Mineo was murdered in West Hollywood. He became one of the stars of a chic gay set and spent money crazily on clothes, fast cars, and even a $250,000 estate for his parents in Long Island. On the eve of the
Academy Awards, he was so convinced that he would win for REBEL that he gave a party at which a huge banner was strung across the facade of his home reading: "Congratulations, Sal!" He didn't win, and the banner was yanked down and burned before dawn the next day. When Mineo was murdered in 1976,
little was left of his fortune. On the wall, however, in an expensive frame, was a prized possession: a poster for REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE ironically captioned: "Teenage terror torn from today's headlines."
Wood drowned in a still-mysterious accident while boating off Catalina Island with her husband, Robert Wagner, and Christopher Walken. Dean himself was killed in a perverse replay of the "chickie run" in REBEL, speeding at more than 100 mph in a racing car on a public highway in California.
Besides killing himself, he seriously injured two other people. Only two hours before his death, Dean was given a ticket for driving 75 mph in a 45 mph zone. "So what?" he responded, before gunning his car down the road toward doom.
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- Review: In this powerful study of juvenile violence, Dean is riveting as a teenager groping for love from a society he finds alien and oppressive. This film forever linked Dean to the restless 1950s generation; even though the indicted parents are caricatures, it'… (more)