"You're tearing me
— Jim Stark
Teen drama from The Fifties
in which James Dean
, Natalie Wood
and Sal Mineo deal with Angst
. Notably averts the Teens Are Monsters
mindset of the era. The film is directed by Nicholas Ray
Dean is Jim Stark, a Troubled, but Cute
17-year-old with a messed-up home life. His mother (Ann Doran) prefers to move whenever a problem comes up rather than confront it and his father (Jim Backus) is a Henpecked Husband
who lets her do as she pleases. As a result, the Starks are constantly moving around and have just arrived in Los Angeles
as the film opens. At his new High School
, Jim befriends John "Plato" Crawford (Mineo), an Ambiguously Gay
innocent. Jim immediately finds himself up against Buzz (Corey Allen), the local Jerk Jock
, but takes somewhat more kindly to Buzz's girlfriend Judy (Wood). Needless to say, she later becomes Jim's girlfriend. Most of the movie takes place on a night after a chicken race gone horribly wrong.
There is a "Rebel Without A Cause
curse". The film's three main stars (Dean, Wood and Mineo) all met tragic deaths at a young age, Dean before the film even opened.note
Provides Examples Of:
- Actor Allusion: In one scene, Jim Stark mutters at his father (played by Jim Backus) in a Mr. Magoo-like voice. (Backus being, of course, the voice of Magoo.)
- Adults Are Useless: In some scenes.
- Berserk Button: You shouldn't have called him 'chicken.'
- Bury Your Gays: Being only implied to be gay doesn't protect Plato from this trope.
- Chewing the Scenery: "You're tearing me apart!"; "I got the bullets!" Everyone else occasionally chips in as well. Of note is Judy's reaction when the phone rings.
- Color Motif: Red is a reoccuring color throughout the movie. Jim's iconic red jacket and Judy's red lipstick both represent their disconnection with society and lack of strong role models. Theres even a subtle case with Buzz right before the game of chicken that leads to his death. Before they do it, Jim asks Buzz something the lines of "Why are we doing this?" and Buzz, responding with something along the lines of "What else is there to do?" opens his jacket up while shrugging, and you can see the inside is red showing they are Not So Different.
- Cool Loser: James Dean is a high school outcast.
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Jim can be counted on to the opposite of anything an adult says. Now, if his putz of a father was strong enough to fend off his wife, his son might be capable of being a respectable member of adult society — but not in this lifetime.
- Covers Always Lie: Jim is portrayed as a violent and menacing, if not downright villainous, figure in the promotional posters, no doubt to capitalize on the fact that All Girls Want Bad Boys. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. See Nice Guy for more details.
- Cymbal-Banging Monkey
- The Danza: James Dean plays James "Jim" Stark.
- Dawson Casting: Mineo and Wood are the right age; Dean is 24 and looks it, enough that his romances with the other two feel a bit squicky.
- Deconstruction: Possibly of teen delinquency films of The Fifties.
- Downer Ending
- Bittersweet Ending: Plato is dead but Jim's dad vows to be a stronger dad from now on and Jim's parents seem to be on the road to being better parents.
- Game of Chicken: Between Buzz and Jim. The game (called "chickie run") is to drive towards the edge of a cliff and see who will jump out first.
- Henpecked Husband: Mr. Frank Stark, Jim's dad.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Keep an eye out for an eighteen-year-old Dennis Hopper.
- In Name Only: Has nothing to do with the earlier book Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: The kid that Plato shoots in the mansion. Sure, he was shot in the chest. He was also trying to help corner and possibly kill Plato and/or Jim.
- Knife Fight: One of the earliest depictions, at least in a delinquent youth context.
- Lap Pillow: Jim and Judy, as seen in the above screenshot.
- Men Don't Cry: Averted in the ending.
- Nice Guy: In stark contrast to how to promotions made him out to be, Jim is a decent, gentle, sensitive and kindhearted boy who unhesitatingly befriends and stands up for the meek Plato on his first day of school, takes care of people who have shown him kindness, and has enough of a conscience left that he practically leapt to take responsibility for the death of his drag-race opponent... though still narcissistic enough to expect to cut to the front of the line at the precinct.
- Nobody Calls Me Chicken
- No Name Given: Judy's last name is not revealed.
- Parental Incest: It's hinted that Judy's father might have a suppressed attraction for her. He refuses to show affection for her, stating that she's "getting too old for that kind of stuff", and when she kisses him, he slaps her.
- Playing Against Type: Jim Backus.
- Pop The Tires: This happens to the main characters' car, and is done with a knife.
- Pretty in Mink
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Ray Fremick, whose first name is the last name of the film's director, Nicholas Ray. Coincidence? You decide.
- Rebel Relaxation: Trope Namer.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Plato and Jim.
- Shoot the Dog: In his first appearance, Plato is at the police station for literally shooting puppies.
- Sleeping Single: Judy's parents, as you can see here◊.
- Suicide by Cop: Plato
- Teens Are Monsters: But only because there are no adults to properly guide them.
- Tender Tears: Jim weeping for the death of Plato.
- Token Trio: The three leads.
- True Companions: Jim, Judy and Plato, as seen in the above screen shot.
- Unbuilt Trope: This film was critical of the Teens Are Monsters trope right as it took form in The Fifties.
- What Could Have Been: Rebel was supposed to be black & white. The decision to shoot the film in color meant less pay for extras which is why there were few extras in the knife fight scene.
- Marlon Brando did a screen test for the part of Jim in the 1940s. The script was later rewritten and Brando was not offered the part, with James Dean cast instead.
- Word of Gay: Plato is supposed to be gay, but the censors at the time wouldn't let them say it, so it's only implied.
- Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb