Arthur Abeshouse, Date: 6/14/17
Rebel without a cause is a violent, brutal and disturbing picture of modern teen-agers that Warner Brothers presents in its new (at the time) melodrama at the Astor, "Rebel Without a Cause." Young people neglected by their parents or given no understanding and moral support by fathers and mothers who are themselves unable to achieve balance and security in their homes are the bristling heroes and heroines of this excessively graphic exercise. The foremost of these youthful characters, played by the late James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, are several social cuts above the vocational high school hoodlums in that previous film. They are children of well-to-do parents, living in comfortable homes and attending a well-appointed high school in the vicinity of Los Angeles. But they are none the less mordant in their manners and handy with switch-blade knives. They are, in the final demonstration, lonely creatures in their own strange, cultist world. Screenwriter Stewart Stern's proposal that these youngsters would be the way they are for the skimpy reasons he shows us may be a little hard to believe. Mr. Dean, he says, is a mixed-up rebel because his father lacks decisiveness and strength. "If he only had the guts to knock Mom cold once!" Mr. Dean mumbles longingly. And Miss Wood is wild and sadistic, prone to run with surly juveniles because her worrisome father stopped kissing her when she was 16. As for Mr. Mineo, he is a thoroughly lost and hero-searching lad because his parents have left him completely in the care of a maid. But convincing or not in motivations, this tale of tempestuous kids and their weird ways of conducting their social relations is tense with explosive incidents. There is a horrifying duel with switchblade cutlery between the reluctant Mr. Dean and another lad on a terrace outside a planetarium, where the youngsters have just received a lecture on the tininess of man. There is a shocking presentation of a "chicky run" in stolen automobiles the first boy to jump from two autos racing toward the brink of a cliff is a "chicken" or coward. Then there's a brutal scene in which three hoodlums, villainous schoolboys in black-leather jackets and cowboy boots, beat up the terrified Mr. Mineo in an empty swimming pool. To set against such hideous details is a wistful and truly poignant stretch where in Mr. Dean and Miss Wood as lonely exiles from their own homes try to pretend they are happy grown-ups in an old mansion. There are some excruciating flashes of accuracy and truth in this film. However, we do wish the young actors, including Mr. Dean, had not been so intent on imitating Marlon Brando in varying degrees. The tendency, possibly typical of the behavior of certain youths, may therefore be a subtle commentary but it grows monotonous. And we'd be more convinced by Jim Backus and Ann Doran as parents of Mr. Dean if they weren't so obviously silly and ineffectual in treating with the boy.