James Dean only made 3 films before his death at age 24. East of Eden came out in early 1955, half a year before its star died in a car crash. A month after his death, his second film was released, followed by his last, Giant, in 1956. With the tragedy of his death still looming and his portrayal as a confused, frustrated and misplaced teenager propelling him to iconic status, Rebel Without a Cause has remained an iconic film within American cinema history. The birth of the teenager, emasculated men, the claustrophobia of suburbia and a new generation who didn’t fit into an old fashioned society; Rebel Without a Cause tackles some of societies biggest issues of the mid-1950s. Nearly 60 years later the film sadly doesn’t hold up as strongly as Dean’s personal legacy. It is terribly dated and, with so much going on and so many worries being presented, it’s astonishing that the film doesn’t actually seem to know what it’s trying to say, much like its own main character. The film opens with our intoxicated lead character, Jim Stark, being brought into the local police station. When his parents arrive to collect him it quickly becomes apparent what’s got this teen in a state. Delivering the film’s iconic lines, Dean creates a wonderful image of adolescent frustration at his inconsistent family and their lack of unity.
Dying so young, Dean was unable to break away from his relationship with teenage angst. The closest he came was through his sensational performance in George Steven’s Giant but this role is forgotten by most. For Dean his ghost will forever be imprisoned in his blood orange Harrington jacket which only highlights what an influential role and performance this was. Jim struggles to fit in at a new school, making enemies and some rather noisy trouble along the way. All the teens are out to cause havoc but, as it turns out, mainly for themselves. Dean is surrounded by a mediocre cast who aren’t given enough room within the script to really make the most of their characters. Jim is angry at his father for becoming slightly feminised and one scene is far too blatant in telling the audience this. We watch Jim rolling his eyebrows whilst his dad wanders the house in a frilly, pink apron looking pretty pathetic. Rebel Without a Cause can only really be appreciated for what it once was. What it is now is a confused, over-exaggerated film that has lost what made it so special six decades ago; its relevance to a specific time along with its originality. Dean is powerful but not much else is.
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