James Dean lit-up the screen as mixed-up kid and bad boy, Jim Stark.
Jim’s real problem is that he despises his father for his weakness and seems unable to relate to anyone except Judy (Natalie Wood), who, like him, is essentially nice but misunderstood.
He is redeemed by his attempt to save his friend Plato (Sal Mineo), by the love of a good woman, by his rejection of the punks, and by a reconciliation with his father.
Rebel Without A Cause had an enormous impact when it was released. The 1950s was a time when the generation gap was growing, as the Victorian values of pre-war America began to be replaced by a more forward-thinking outlook and the youth found their voice but weren’t yet sure how to use it.
In the film, bonds of friendship replace those of family and Jim, Judy and Plato come to represent a surrogate family unit, providing each other with a reassuring emotional support network.
The film was originally slated for black-and-white but director Nicholas Ray persuaded Warners to let him shoot it in colour.
His immaculate sense of colour, composition, lighting, cutting and performance enhances the importance of the action in the film.
The three teenage leads all died prematurely: James Dean in a car accident before the film was released in 1955, Sal Mineo was murdered in 1976, and Natalie Wood drowned in 1981.
All three deaths have been the subject of much speculation.