Directed By: Nicholas Ray
Written By: Stewart Stern (screenplay) Irving Shulman (adaptation) Nicholas Ray (story)
I first identified with this movie when I was in high school and watched it in a film class. I was after all a teenage rebel without a cause myself and I found it interesting that a movie made so far before my time could have such an effect on me.
Until seeing this movie I had seen the era of Leave it to Beaver as just so. As a happy-go-lucky time when the dads works, the mom’s happily went about housework and the kids were always enjoying themselves. To see that, even during this era I perceived as a golden time, kids were just as unhappy and unnoticed by their parents as they were in my own time opened my eyes a little bit.
One of the things that annoy me the most in life is the perception that things are always getting worse. When people get nostalgic and say the world is going to hell, “it just wasn’t like this back in my day.” Maybe in the 50s the kids dressed more respectably, but they still liked to get loaded and get into trouble. There wasn’t an internet to teach them how to do things but they never failed to experiment until they figured it out. Kids were ruthless and they bullied one another just like they do now it just wasn’t something that ended up on the news every time it happened. Depression was just as common yet unnoticed or misunderstood most of the time. I think that the frustrating and confusing period of adolescence we all must endure is a thing that transcends time and generations. This movie serves to remind us of how things are as they always have been even without the devices today’s youth can’t live without.
This is a notable movie for so many reasons but the one that I always think of the most is the tragic deaths of both the lead actor and actress in this movie. James Dean of course died shortly after the making of this film in a reckless car crash that martyred him into a cultural icon. Natalie Wood on the other hand died many years later under mysterious circumstances that are still questioned today. Dean’s death was his own doing. He had been warned and just couldn’t help himself from living on the edge for that thrill. He liked to race cars and died doing what he loved. It was an unfortunate death that came far too soon for a young promising actor but there is something to dying in the act of your passion. What happened to Wood was just tragic and awful. She of course drown while partying on a boat with her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. Something has never smelled right about what allegedly happened to her and it is entirely likely she was beaten up and murdered by her husband. Nobody knows what actually happened on that boat aside from the people who were on board and their version is all we have. It has been questioned by many.
They were both applauded and awarded for their performances in this film, but in truth I have always felt they were both over acting a bit. James Dean specifically has always seemed a bit over dramatic in this movie to me. I think that mostly has to do with how refined acting on-screen has become as an art in the 60 years since this movie came out. Granted Humphrey Bogart gave performances flawless enough to stand the test of time in movies like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon but I don’t get that from Dean. He is undoubtedly super cool and it would have been interesting to see how his career might have developed but in this film I have always felt he laid it on too thick at times. “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!!!”
The role of Sal Mineo as the disturbed Plato is a very interesting one. This kid so obviously has issues and nobody to help him with them. He is raised by a housekeeper as his father is long gone and his mother is often away on trips. He is so desperate for attention, companionship, and friendship. When he gets a tiny taste of it his mind runs away with it and it becomes something different in his mind. He makes things up and they become real for him. He is lost and all alone in the world and when his end comes it is both tragic and relieving. Plato was very troubled, and it’s unlikely his new friends were the answer for what ailed him. In the beginning of the film he is at the prison because he was shooting puppies. The guy is somewhat endearing during the movie but you really have to ask yourself what kind of guy takes a gun and shoots puppies; they’re only like the most cute and innocent creatures on the planet. He may have bonded with Jim Stark but that guy had problems that were going to get someone hurt eventually.
This movie tends to be a bit over dramatic most of the time but it gets the point across and I like the message. It’s a great movie with performances that will be remembered for all time, over dramatic or not. I feel like watching this movie is like seeing a play on-screen but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is a classic movie and it is worth the time of any serious film fan.
NEXT MOVIE: Red Sonja (1985)….embarrassing I know.