Rebel Without a Cause

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Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel without a cause432.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by David Weisbart
Screenplay by Stewart Stern
Story by Nicholas Ray
Irving Shulman
Starring James Dean
Natalie Wood
Sal Mineo
Jim Backus
Ann Doran
Corey Allen
William Hopper
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by William H. Ziegler
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • October 27, 1955 (1955-10-27)
[citation needed]
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.5 million
Box office $4,500,000 (US rentals)[1]

Rebel Without a Cause is a 1955 American drama film about emotionally confused suburban, middle-class teenagers. Filmed in the recently introduced CinemaScope format and directed by Nicholas Ray, it offered both social commentary and an alternative to previous films depicting delinquents in urban slum environments.[2][3] The film stars James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.

The film was a groundbreaking attempt to portray the moral decay of American youth, critique parental style, and explore the differences and conflicts between generations. The title was adopted from psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner's 1944 book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. The film, however, does not make any references to Lindner's book in any way. Warner Bros. released the film on October 27, 1955.

Over the years, the film has achieved landmark status for the acting of cultural icon James Dean, fresh from his Oscar nominated role in East of Eden and who died before the film's release, in his most celebrated role. This was the only film during Dean's lifetime in which he received top billing; in 1990, Rebel Without a Cause was added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant".


Jim Stark is in police custody.

Teenager Jim Stark (Dean) is arrested and taken to the juvenile division of the police station for "plain drunkenness", at the station he meets John "Plato" Crawford (Mineo), who was brought in for shooting dead a litter of puppies, and Judy (Wood), who was brought in for curfew violation. The three each separately reveal their innermost frustrations to the officers; all three of them suffer from problems at home:

  • Jim feels betrayed and anguished by his constantly bickering parents, Frank (Jim Backus) and Carol (Ann Doran), but even more so by his father's milquetoast attitude and failure to stand up to Carol. His frustrations are made manifest to officer Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) when Jim is released to their custody.
  • Judy is convinced that her father (William Hopper) ignores her because she's no longer a little girl, so she dresses up in racy clothes to get attention, which only causes her father to call her a "dirty tramp".
  • Plato's father abandoned them when he was a toddler, and his mother is often away from home, leaving Plato in the care of his housekeeper.

On his first day at Dawson High, Jim again meets Judy and offers her a ride. Seemingly unimpressed by Jim at first, she declines and is picked up by her "friends", a gang of delinquents led by "Buzz" Gunderson (Corey Allen). Jim is shunned by the rest of the student body but befriends Plato, who comes to idolize him as a father figure.

After a field trip to Griffith Observatory, Buzz provokes and challenges Jim to a knife fight. Unsatisfied by Jim's unwillingness to fight back, Buzz suggests stealing some cars to have a "Chickie Run" at a seaside cliff, at home, Jim ambiguously asks his father for advice about defending one's honor in a risky, dangerous situation, but Frank instead advises him against confrontation of any kind.

That night, during the chickie run, Buzz falls to his death when he is unable to exit his car in time, the rest of the gang flees, so they don't get caught.

Jim confronts his father while his mother watches.

Jim confides his involvement in the crash to his parents and considers turning himself in. When his mother declares they are moving again, Jim protests and pleads with his father to stand up for him, but Frank refuses. Jim attacks Frank in frustration, then storms off to the police station to confess, but he is turned away by the desk sergeant.

Jim drives back home and finds Judy waiting for him, she apologizes for the way she treated him, citing peer pressure, and the two begin to fall in love. Agreeing that they will never go back to their respective homes, Jim suggests they visit the mansion Plato told him about.

Meanwhile, Plato is intercepted by Buzz's gang who are convinced that Jim was the one who betrayed them to the police, they steal Plato’s notebook and run off; Plato retrieves his mother’s gun and leaves to warn Jim and Judy, where he finds them at the mansion.

The three new friends act out a fantasy as a family. Plato then falls asleep, and Jim and Judy leave to explore the mansion, where they share their first kiss.

Buzz's gang wake up Plato who, frightened and distraught, shoots at one of the members. When Jim returns, he attempts to restrain Plato, but he flees, accusing Jim of leaving him behind.

Plato runs to the observatory and barricades himself inside as more police converge, including Fremick who, with Frank and Carol, was looking for Jim. Jim and Judy follow Plato into the observatory, where he persuades Plato to trade the gun for his red jacket. Jim removes the ammunition before returning it. Jim then convinces Plato to come outside, but the police notice that Plato still has the gun, so they shoot him out of self defense.

Frank comforts his grieving son, vowing to be a stronger father. Now reconciled with his parents, Jim introduces them to Judy.



Warner Brothers had bought the rights to Lindner's book, intending to use the title for a film. Attempts to create a film version in the late 1940s eventually ended without a film or even a full script being produced. When Marlon Brando did a five-minute screen test for the studio in 1947, he was given fragments of one of the partial scripts. However, Brando was not auditioning for Rebel Without a Cause, and there was no offer of any part made by the studio, the film, as it later appeared, was the result of a totally new script written in the 1950s that had nothing to do with the Brando test. The screen test is included on a 2006 special edition DVD of the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire.

According to a biography of Natalie Wood, she almost did not get the role of Judy because Nicholas Ray thought that she did not fit the role of the wild teen character. While on a night out with friends, she got into a car accident. Upon hearing this, Ray rushed to the hospital. While in delirium, Wood overheard the doctor murmuring and calling her a "goddamn juvenile delinquent"; she soon yelled to Ray, "Did you hear what he called me, Nick?! He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! Now do I get the part?!"[4][5]

Dawson High School, the school in the film, was actually Santa Monica High School, located in Santa Monica, California.

Irving Shulman, who adapted Nicholas Ray's initial film story into the screenplay, had considered changing the name of James Dean's character to Herman Deville, according to Jurgen Muller's "Movies of the '50s". He had also originally written a number of scenes that were shot and later cut from the final version of the film. According to an AFI interview with Stewart Stern, with whom Shulman worked on the screenplay, one of the scenes was thought to be too emotionally provocative to be included in the final print of the film, it portrayed the character of Jim Stark inebriated to the point of belligerence screaming at a car in the parking lot, "It's a little jeep jeep! Little jeep, jeep!" The scene was considered unproductive to the story's progression by head editor William H. Ziegler and ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor. In 2006, members of the Lincoln Film Society petitioned to have the scene printed and archived for historical preservation.

The film was in production from March 28 to May 25, 1955. When production began, Warner Bros. considered it a B-movie project, and Ray used black and white film stock. When Jack L. Warner realized James Dean was a rising star and a hot property, filming was switched to color stock, and many scenes had to be reshot in color. It was shot in the widescreen CinemaScope format, which had been introduced two years previously, with its densely expressive images, the film has been called a "landmark ... a quantum leap forward in the artistic and technical evolution of a format."[6]

The 1949 Mercury Coupe James Dean drove in the movie is part of the permanent collection at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.


The film received accolades for its story and for the performance of James Dean and the young stars who appeared, including teenagers Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper, as well as Nick Adams and Corey Allen.

The film holds a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[7]

The film was banned in New Zealand in 1955 by Chief Censor Gordon Mirams, out of fears that it would incite 'teenage delinquency', only to be released on appeal the following year with scenes cut;[8] in Britain, the film was released with an X-rating with scenes cut.[9]

Awards and accolades[edit]



American Film Institute recognition

Empire magazine recognition

  • Ranked 477th on list of the 500 greatest movies of all time in 2008.[10]

Costumes and props[edit]

The switchblade James Dean's character used in the fight scene at Griffith Observatory was offered at auction on September 30, 2015 by Profiles in History with an estimated value of US$12,000 to $15,000, with a winning bid of US$12,000.[11] Also offered at the same auction were production photographs and a final shooting script dated August 17, 1955 for a behind-the-scenes television promotional film titled Behind the Cameras: Rebel Without a Cause hosted by Gig Young and that had scripted interviews and staged footage by the cast and crew (script winning bid US$225.)[11]

In popular culture[edit]


  • The 1971 hit single "American Pie" contains the lyrics "When the Jester sang for the King and Queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean", widely believed to be a reference to the red jacket worn by Dean's character in the film and an allusion to the windbreaker worn by Bob Dylan on the cover of his 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan".[12]
  • Joni Mitchell included clips from Rebel Without a Cause in her concert film Shadows and Light, recorded in 1979 and released in 1980.
  • The 1980 Bruce Springsteen song "Cadillac Ranch" mentions James Dean's 1949 Mercury coupe.
  • Rap Group Public Enemy made a song called "Rebel Without a Pause".
  • Bonnie Tyler in 1986 made a song called "Rebel Without a Clue".
  • The Bellamy Brothers in 1988 made a song called "Rebels Without a Clue".
  • The phrase "rebel without a clue" also occurs in the 1989 song "I'll Be You" by The Replacements, which inspired Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to include it on the 1991 song "Into the Great Wide Open".
  • The 1991 Paula Abdul video "Rush, Rush" features a street race and co-stars Keanu Reeves, drawing stylistic inspiration from Rebel Without A Cause, and as such, has a period theme. A 90-second dramatic prelude to the song rather mirrors the characters from the film.
  • In 1995 Nonesuch Records issued an album of music from both East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by John Adams.
  • Rap-rock artist Kid Rock named his 1998 album "Devil Without a Cause".
  • Shenandoah mentions Dean and Wood in the 1993 song "I Want to Be Loved Like That". The beginning of the song states: "Natalie Wood gave her heart to James Dean/ High school rebel and the teenage queen/ Standing together in an angry world/ One boy fighting for one girl."
  • In the Marilyn Manson song "Mutilation Is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery" from his 2007 album "Eat Me, Drink Me" is the line "Rebels Without Applause".
  • Track 5 on the 2007 Every Time I Die album The Big Dirty is named "Rebel Without Applause".
  • In their 2011 song "Constipation", Black Hippy[13] sings "rebel without a cause".
  • The German musician Prinz Pi's album Rebell ohne Grund (2011) is named after Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Locnville recorded a 2012 song named "James Dean".
  • Taylor Swift's song "Style", from her 2014 album 1989, features the line "You've got that James Dean/day dream look in your eyes".
  • Ariana Grande's song "Moonlight", from her 2016 album Dangerous Woman, features the line "He's givin' me Elvis/ With some James Dean in his eye."


  • Tommy Wiseau borrowed the line "You're tearing me apart" and used it in his 2003 cult hit film The Room, which is widely considered to be the worst film ever made. In the original script, it was written as "You're taking me apart, Lisa".

See also[edit]



  1. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  2. ^ Variety film review; October 26, 1955, page 6.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; October 22, 1955, page 170.
  4. ^ Finstead, Susan (2009). Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood. Random House. p. 176. ISBN 9780307428660. Retrieved July 11, 2014.  Latest Wood biography.
  5. ^ Higgins, Bill. "How Natalie Wood Seduced Her Way Into 'Rebel Without a Cause'". The Hollywood Reporter (December 2, 2011). Retrieved July 11, 2014.  Tells of the quote being from 1974 interview.
  6. ^ "DVD Playback: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)". American Cinematographer. 86 (10). October 2005. 
  7. ^ "Rebel Without a Cause". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  8. ^ "History of Censorship: 1955 - Rebel Without a Cause". NZ Office of Film & Literature Classification. 
  9. ^ Roya Nikkhah (2009-06-21). "To cut or not to cut – a censor's dilemma". Daily Telegraph. 
  10. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  11. ^ a b Hollywood Auction 74. California: Profiles in History. 2015. p. 434. Lot 1255. James Dean’s switchblade from Rebel Without a Cause. (Warner Bros.,1955) Black-handled switchblade manufactured in Italy by Astor. Engraved with the studio production number “WBM 28730” (Warner Bros. Movies), the spring mechanism currently non-operational, but easily repaired. This knife is used by Dean as "Jim" in the thrilling fight scene at Griffith Observatory, where Jim is confronted by Natalie Wood’s leather-clad hoodlum boyfriend “Buzz” (Corey Allen), who is armed with a similar white-handled knife. . . . The knife is fully 13 in. long when opened, and exhibits some abrasions to one side of the handle, incurred when it was thrown to the ground and then kicked towards James Dean in the scene. The knife is accompanied with a letter of provenance from a previous owner, stating that the knife was originally acquired from Red Turner, the property master on Rebel Without a Cause. . . . Est. US$12,000 - $15,000 (winning bid $12,000.).  (Auction took place September 30, 2015. Catalog 83MB PDF and Prices Realized List PDF available at Archived 2015-09-06 at the Wayback Machine..)
  12. ^ Robert Fontenot. "The "American Pie" FAQ -- What's the meaning of Verse 3 ("Now for ten years we've been on our own")?". About. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Kendrick Lamar


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