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Rebel Without a Cause is a 1955 film directed by Nicholas Ray that tells the story of a rebellious teenager played by James Dean, who comes to a town, meets a girl, disobeys his parents, and defies the local high school bullies. It was an attempt to portray the moral decay of American youth, critique parental style, and exploit the differences between generations. The title is adopted from psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner's 1944 book, Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. The film itself, however, does not reference Lindner's book in any way. In 1990, Rebel Without a Cause was added to the preserved films of the United States Library of Congressmarker's National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film had its opening on 27 October 1955, almost one month after James Dean's fatal car crash.


Jim Stark is in police custody.
The protagonist is 17-year-old James 'Jim' Stark who, shortly after he and his parents move to Los Angelesmarker, enrolls at Dawson High School. The film begins with Jim brought into police station for public drunkenness. His mother, father and grandmother come to retrieve him, and Jim's family situation is introduced. Jim's parents are often fighting. Often the father is the one who tries to advocate for Jim; however, Jim's mother always succeeds during the arguments. Jim feels betrayed both by this fighting and by his father's lack of moral strength, causing feelings of unrest and displacement. This shows later in the film when he repeatedly asks his father "what do you do when you have to be a man?"

Jim confronts his father while his mother watches.
While trying to conform with fellow students at the school, he becomes involved in a dispute with a local bully named Buzz Gunderson. While he tries to deal with Buzz (Corey Allen), he becomes friends with a 15-year-old boy, John, nick-named Plato (Sal Mineo), who was also at the police station the night of the opening scene for shooting puppies. Plato idolizes Jim, his real father having abandoned his family. Plato experiences many of the same problems as Jim, such as searching for meaning in life and dealing with parents who "don't understand."

Jim meets Judy (Natalie Wood), whom he also recognizes from the police station, where she was brought in for being out alone after dark, who originally acts unimpressed by Jim, saying in an ironic tone "I'm bet you're a real yoyo." She belongs to the high school gang of Buzz Gunderson. The thugs challenge Jim to a "Chickie Run" with Buzz, racing stolen cars towards an abyss. The one who first jumps out of the car loses and is deemed a "chicken" (coward). The "game" ends in tragedy for Buzz when a strap on the sleeve of his leather jacket becomes caught on the car door and he is unable to jump before it goes over the cliff.

A romantic moment between Judy and Jim.
Jim tries to tell his parents what happened but becomes frustrated by their failure to understand him and storms out of the house. When Jim is seen trying to go to the police by some of Buzz's friends, they decide to hunt him down, and harass Plato and Jim's family to try to find him. Judy and Plato join him in the garden of an abandoned villa, where they act out a "fantasy family," with Jim as father, Judy as mother and Plato as child. The thugs soon discover them, and Plato brandishes a gun, shooting at one of the boys, Jim, and a police officer, in a clearly unstable state.

Plato hides in the Griffith Observatorymarker which is soon besieged by the police. Jim and Judy follow him inside, and Jim convinces Plato to lend him the gun, from which he silently removes the ammunition magazine (though he neglects the round in the chamber). When Plato steps out of the observatory, he becomes unstable again at the sight of the police and charges forward, brandishing his weapon. He is shot fatally by a police officer acting in defense of himself and the bystanders, despite Jim's yelling to police that he removed the bullets. Plato was wearing Jim's jacket at the time, and as a result, Jim's parents (brought to the scene by police) think at first that Jim was shot. Mr. Stark then runs to comfort Jim, who is distraught by Plato's death. Mr. Stark promises to be a stronger father, one that his son can depend on. Thus reconciled, Jim introduces Judy to his parents.



Warner Brothers had bought the rights to the 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 1940s 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 material Brando screen-tested with. The screen test is included on a 2006 special edition DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire.

According to a biography on her, Natalie Wood almost did not get the role of Judy because Nicholas Ray thought that she didn't seem fit for 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?!"

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

The film was in production from 28 March to 25 May . When the production began, they used black and white film stock. Eventually, they decided to switch to color film stock and had many scenes reshot in color.

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

Awards and honors



American Film Institute recognition

Empire magazine recognition
  • Ranked 477th on list of the 500 greatest movies of all time in 2008.

In popular culture

  • The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Date with Density" shares many plot similarities. And in "Take My Wife, Sleaze", Homer is watching a similar movie, where a character that resembles Mr. Stark exclaims "He's a rebel I tell ya! A rebel without a cause ...just like the boy in that popular movie we saw."
  • The 1991 Paula Abdul music video for the single "Rush, Rush" is an adaptation of the film with Keanu Reeves as the James Dean character, Jim, and Abdul as the Natalie Wood character, Judy.
  • The character of Philip J. Fry in Futurama wears the exact same clothing as James Dean for the duration of the series. As stated by series creator Matt Groening in the audio commentary for the pilot of the show.



  1. National Automobile Museum - collections


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