Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus
Director:  Nicholas Ray
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.55:1 
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  111 Minutes
Release Date:  May 31, 2005


Film ****

There was never a film that so perfectly presented teenage angst as a subject matter than Rebel Without A Cause.  Nor was there an actor who more personified it than James Dean.  Dean was tragically killed in an auto accident after only three major films to his credit, which added to the mystique of his persona to generations of fans.  And like other greats gone too young, like Buddy Holly or Roberto Clemente, the world mourned not only the loss of the greatness that he achieved, but the greatness he would never get a chance to.

His performance, and this film, have to be considered two of the most influential in the history of cinema.  Every angry teen movie since its release, be it The Breakfast Club or Footloose, owes something of a nod to Rebel.  But none have ever quite attained the status of the original.  And thatís largely because of James Deanís remarkable work. 

Dean brought to his character of Jim Stark a boiling cauldron of mixed emotionsÖfrom anger to sorrow, from fear to courage, from love to hateÖall of which both makes him the kid he is, and seems to tear him down as well.  He captured the awkwardness of trying to fit in, to try and find a place for himself.  He seems to fail at every turn, though his intentions are good, and millions of teenagers across the world could identify with him.  Iíd wager many today still do.

The film is partly about relationships, and the many ways they can be frustrating.  Jimís relationship with his parents, for example.  They bicker and argue with one another, they canít seem to offer him a straight answer about anything.  And itís not necessarily always their fault.  As adults, we know things in life arenít always as simple as black and white, yes and no, all right and all wrong.  But itís tough for a guy Jimís age to understand.  They tell him he will when heís an adult, but teenagers never really believe that will eventually happen to them.

Thereís also kids relationships to one another.  Why do they taunt, tease, and fight one another?  Like the character Buzz mentions, ďYou gotta do something.Ē  And why must there always be the one outsider that everyone else unifies to pick on?  I guess if there were simple answers to these questions, they still wouldnít be happening today.  But on the other side of the coin, note how Jim, Judy (Wood) and Plato (Mineo) come together in a few tender moments.  All three feel like misfits, all have family difficulties, so they kind of form a family unto themselves.

The film is also about the tragedy kids can, and still do, bring amongst themselves.  Itís so easy to feel immortal at that age.  But we know they arenítÖand this movie demonstrates that fact.  Itís so easy to put your life on the line for something that doesnít mean anything, and be a rebel without a cause, when you donít consider the possible consequences until itís too late.

But the movie doesnít preach a heavy handed message.  Itís really just meant to be a day in the life of a kid who doesnít understand the world, nor does the world understand him.  It looks into their world, and the world of the parents, not with judgment, but with solemnity.  Tragedies can happen when you make poor decisions or when communications between people arenít clear. 

Iíve mentioned Deanís legendary performance, but mention must also go to his two co-stars, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, who together with Dean, helped personify the trouble, confusion, and frustration of youth.  Sadly, both Mineo and Wood, like Dean, died tragically, and far too young.  But their work together is a true on-screen revelation, and continues to be so to this day.

Oh, and for a little extra fun, keep an eye out for a very young Dennis Hopper as one of the gang members, and Edward Plattóthe chief from ďGet SmartĒ as a juvenile officer.  

BONUS TRIVIA:  Rebel Without a Cause was originally intended to be a black and white film, but it had to be changed to color because of CinemaScope contractual obligations.

Video **1/2

Iím happy to have this film in widescreenóCinemaScope 55 is just too wide to watch in pan and scanóand with widescreen enhancement.  But this DVD is a bit off the mark for a quality transfer, at least by Warner standards.  Darker images often have a ringing shimmer to them, and an occasional bit of grain.  Daylight scenes, though, are pristine, sharp, and with excellent color.  The print appears to be a bit worn, too, with noticeable nicks and scars along the way.  It could have, and being the classic that it is, should have, received a little restoration effort for the DVD release.  Overall, itís still a better and brighter transfer than anything I had seen prior, either on VHS or on television, so thereís no reason to shy away from the disc.  It just could have been better than it is.

Audio **1/2

The soundtrack has been improved from original mono to 5.1, and is quite clean considering the filmís age, but it still sounds a trifle thin, like many films from that period tend to do.  The surround audio basically opens up the sound and gives it more spatiality and ambience without going so far as to make really discreet uses of the rear stage or .1 channel.  The music score definitely sounds sweet.

Features ****

Warner assembled a nice two disc package for this release...Disc One features a commentary by Douglas L. Rathgeb, who authored the definitive book on the making of the movie.  It's a well done track; he offers lots of insights into the cast and the various scenes.  The original trailer is also included.

The second disc contains a pair of terrific documentaries...the new one, "Defiant Innocents", is a good look back at the movie and features interviews with many of the surviving cast members, including Dennis Hopper.  Perhaps even better is the 70s documentary "James Dean Remembered"...it's good because of the vintage interviews with the still living Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, along with some fond remembrances from Dean's friend Sammy Davis Jr.

There are also some original screen tests featuring Dean, Wood and Mineo, and some wardrobe tests for Dean and the gang.  There are 16 deleted scenes without audio; some in black and white and some in color, and they include an alternate ending where Plato falls from the planetarium dome.  Rounding out are three segments from Warner Bros. Presents featuring Jim Backus, Natalie Wood and James Dean, the latter of which includes the now famous car safety message from Dean.  A superb package all around.


Rebel Without A Cause is a film that will probably forever be etched into the hearts of audiences for its unflinching look at teenage angst and confusion.  And, of course, for the legend-making performance of James Dean in the title role.  Itís a strong emotional mix that remains potent and dramatic no matter how many years go by.

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