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Warner Home Video presents
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

"You're tearing me apart!"
- Jim Stark (James Dean)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: June 02, 2005

Stars: James Dean, Natalie Wood
Other Stars: Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Edward Platt, Rochelle Hudson, Dennis Hopper
Director: Nicholas Ray

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:50m:47s
Release Date: May 31, 2005
UPC: 012569683327
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-AB+ A

DVD Review

The planetarium field trip, the knife fight, the chicken race, the final desperate howl.

The iconic moments of Rebel Without a Cause have thrived across generations and remain significant elements of popular culture. The chicken race has been recreated in a wide range of films, including the John Waters '50s spoof, Crybaby. The classy cars were even replaced by tractors in the small-town gem Footloose for a showdown. The hero's weakness when called a chicken was utilized by Robert Zemeckis for his Back to the Future trilogy. When Marty McFly faces down Biff to protect his manhood, one can't help but think about the connection to Jim Stark. These moments represent just a small portion of the countless memorable qualities in this movie that entice new viewers 50 years later.

James Dean stars as Jim Stark in this seminal tale of teen frustration against a system of parents and other adults who don't understand them. Juvenile delinquency on film was hardly a new subject in 1955, but most past works had correlated this issue with poor kids. This story presents rich and middle-class teens that live comfortably but still are missing an essential aspect of life. Jim grows increasingly irritated with his father's subservient nature and inability to stand up to his nagging mother. He also has enjoyed a string of bad luck that always seems to place him in the wrong situation. The result has been consistent moves to environments that promise a much better life. Unfortunately, this new school quickly places Jim into conflict with the local gang, who dislike his individualistic attitude.

Though tame by modern standards, the love story between Jim and Judy (Natalie Wood) generates sparks due to the immense talents of both young stars. Wood was a teenager at the time and had just begun to overcome her success as a child actor. Although the character represented a drastic change of pace for her, Wood sells the "bad girl" image and creates a believable '50s teen. Her issues stem from difficulties with her father, who just can't seem to accept her development into a woman. One family scene is surprising for a film of the era, with the dad's uncomfortable feelings right out in the open. Judy also comes from an affluent home, and her rough demeanor completely bewilders her parents. This understandable rift in their relationship at this age helps to explain the film's continued success in attracting teenage viewers.

The bright red jacket and white t-shirt Dean wears here created the ultimate image that remains today as the epitome of rebel cool. In actuality, the most rebellious figure is not Jim Stark, but instead is John "Plato" Crawford (Sal Mineo)—a crazy, volcanic teen waiting to erupt. Plato's father is long gone, and his mother would rather do anything than spend time with her son, which has steered him towards disaster. Jim represents the father figure that Plato needs, and he seems happy for at least a short time. However, a series of unfortunate events cause his violent tendencies to return, which could lead to a tragic conclusion. Sal Mineo had appeared in only a few films prior to this one, and his fiery performance earned him an Oscar nomination. Although Dean is unforgettable, Mineo stands up quite well with the legendary star and deserves the acclaim.

The surprising aspect of this film is the pains that Jim takes to avoid conflict, but his need to stand up for himself trumps any other impulses. This trait is admirable, but its side effects could lead the end of Jim and the friends and enemies in his wake.

Rebel Without a Cause has been released with The James Dean Collection, which offers special editions of each of his three major films. Giant and East of Eden are definitely worth a viewing for audiences new to the Dean phenomenon.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Rebel Without a Cause appeared in theaters in 1955 using the Cinescope format, and this remastered 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer wisely preserves the original images. The majestic outdoor landscapes of the California coast appear with astounding sharpness and offer a stunning picture. The black levels are solid and the grain inherent in older prints is virtually nonexistent. This premier transfer conveys Nicholas Rey's vision in all its glory.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This release includes a solid 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track that presents the intense dialogue clearly. There are no signifiicant defects present, and the result is a worthwhile presentation. The only drawback is the lack of much power from the rear speakers, almost certainly due to the initial sound limitations. This track may not match the success of the image transfer, but it still performs effectively.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
16 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Biographer Douglas L. Rathgeb
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Screen tests
  2. Wardrobe tests
  3. Behind the cameras (Natalie Wood, Jim Backus, James Dean)
Extras Review: Warner Brothers has released an impressive two-disc special edition of Rebel Without a Cause that provides cosiderable insight into the film and James Dean. The individual extras are described in the sections below:

Commentary by Douglas L. Rathgeb
The author of The Making of Rebel Without a Cause offers plenty of information concerning this influentual film's history. His comments do include a significant amount of plot summary, but Rathgeb also offers abundant details concerning all elements of the picture. This is definitely worth a listen for viewers interested in the story's background.

Rebel Without a Cause - Defiant Innocents
This brand-new, 36-minute documentary gives a solid overview of the production and its influence on society throughout the years. Dean, Wood, Mineo, and Rey have all died, so this feature does lack input from the major players. However, many supporting cast members, including Corey Allen (Buzz) and Dennis Hopper (unnamed goon), speak about their experiences. The most intriguing perspective comes from Frank Mazzola (Crunch), whose real-life gang experience helped to make the film more authentic.

James Dean Remembered
Originally broadcast by ABC's Wide World of Entertainment under the title Memoirs of a Gentle Giant, this poignant 1974 documentary on James Dean runs for more than an hour. It includes discussions with Sammy Davis, Jr., Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and others in a serious attempt to explore Dean's true nature. Instead of glossing over his career superficially, this piece takes its time and reminisces about the man behind the star's persona. Some viewers may scoff at the '70s decor and lose interest in the slower moments, but cinema lovers will almost certainly find this entry compelling.

Deleted Scenes (16)
It's rare to witness such a large collection of deleted scenes available for a film released 50 years ago. They do lack audio, which adds an eerie feeling to the long shots of students entering and leaving various locales. Five of the scenes are original black-and-white moments shot prior to the change to color. The actors' outfits are more conservative in these sequences. This section also includes a brief alternate ending, which places the final tragedy on the roof of the building. One frustrating element of this section is the lack of a Play All feature, which would have may navigation much easier.

Screen and Wardrobe Tests
The six-minute screen test brings Dean, Wood, and Mineo together for a longer version of a scene at the mansion. Their chemistry is already inherent in this rehearsal. The wardrobe test simply presents the teens wearing different outfits and posing for the camera. It's an interesting inclusion, but quickly grows old.

Behind the Camera (Natalie Wood, Jim Backus, James Dean)
These entertaining featurettes offer a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes documentary, 1950s style. Running about 20 minutes total, the three black-and-white shows appear designed to promote the film to a television audience. A silly narrator speaks with the actors, writers, and other crew members and sheds a bit of light into the production process. The cast interviews are especially odd, as James Dean makes little sense, Natalie Wood dines on the on-set food, and Jim Backus looks much different with long sideburns and a moustache. This extra probably runs best using the Play All feature.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Experts generally consider Giant to be James Dean's best performance, but few can argue that Jim Stark stands as his most recognized character. Fifty years after its initial release, Rebel Without a Cause remains effective and continues to find new viewers. While dated in certain aspects, its strong portrayal of disaffected youth maintains a timeless quality that still affects today's younger generations.

 


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