Wild adolescent Cal Trask finds out that his mother, long believed dead, is actually running a brothel in a nearby town. The discovery proves traumatic for Cal and signals the break-up of his already strained relationship with his austere father and his brother, Aron.
We’re in Cain and Abel territory, and the biblical parallels are rammed home by Elia Kazan’s heavy-handed direction.
The film features James Dean in his first starring role, in which – as Cal – he embodies the frustrations of American teenagers.
It was writer Paul Osborn who recommended Dean, though Kazan was set on casting Marlon Brando, but when Kazan met Dean – “a heap of twisted legs and denim rags, looking resentful for no particular reason” – he recognised the potential.
Jo Van Fleet