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Rebel without a cause

Director: Nicholas Ray

U.S.A.| 1955. Colour. Anamorphic. 111 min. New 35mm print.


James Dean’s Hollywood career lasted a mere 18 months. In that time he made three films, each of them with an outstanding director. His impact on screen acting still has effects 50 years later, with many modern actors, including De Niro, Cage, Penn and Depp, eager to acknowledge their debt. He died in a car crash on September 30, 1955. He was 24 years old.
Dean’s second film, Rebel Without a Cause opened a month after his death and instantly redefined perceptions of teenage angst. Director Nicholas Ray started shooting Rebel in black-and-white, but Jack Warner, impressed by the rushes, stopped production, upped the budget and ordered it to be made in CinemaScope and colour. Many directors were unhappy with the wide-screen format, but Ray seized his opportunity, creating highly stylised compositions that used the full frame. Dean’s death, shortly before the opening, inevitably heightened the film’s impact, but his performance as the leader of a trio of Californian high-school misfits, inescapably drawn to each other in a tragedy that has overtones of Romeo and Juliet, is genuinely strong and compelling. The entire narrative takes little more than 24 hours to unfold. The film, mainly scripted by Stewart Stern and based at a distant remove on a book Warners had purchased in 1946, appeared six months after Blackboard Jungle had attempted to define teenage angst. But Ray’s film quickly supplanted Blackboard Jungle to become the seminal statement, making the novel observation for the time that juvenile delinquency was not exclusively the territory of the urban poor but, as the product of the gulf of understanding between generations, could affect all reaches of society.
A film that has retained its power and relevance over the years.

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