This post is the first in a series, called “Required Viewing”, on TV shows & movies every leather-clad rebel should see before they ride off into the sunset. An archive of the series can be found here.
Few movies are as storied as James Dean’s 1955 film, Rebel Without a Cause, due to Dean’s untimely death around the time of its release and the iconic role the young actor portrayed in the film. Rebel was one of many “social consciousness” films released in the 1950’s, which tried to put teenage rebellion and juvenile delinquency on display in cautionary tales of destruction and untimely death. Despite Dean’s passing in a tragic auto accident, this film like others of the movement, only promoted the hot rod racing and rock music listening they were attempting to downplay.
Dean’s character, Jim Stark, moves to an LA suburb and starts at a new school where he faces a gang of hot rod driving bullies, meets a girl and befriends a younger student from a broken home. Faced with parental issues of his own and a rash of bullying, Jim gets involved in street racing and a dangerous game of automotive chicken. Throughout, Dean spends a fair amount of town wearing a leather jacket and looking downtrodden on camera. Jim, love interest Judy and underclassman Plato form a surrogate family for one another in the face of their individual and group conflicts. The trio hole up in an abandoned mansions during the film’s climax as they hide from rival gang members and the police.
Cultural historians and film critics praise Rebel for its place in the social consciousness film era, it’s roundabout promotion of traditional values and depiction of juvenile delinquents. Juvenile delinquents, for the past 60 years, have praised it for its style, fast (for the period) pace and the brooding genius of James Dean’s acting. And that doesn’t even cover Jim Stark’s iconic leather motorcyle jacket, which has become one of the most well known in popular culture. Symbolizing youthful rebellion, the birth of rock and roll and teenage angst Dean in his signature outerwear adorns college dorms, dive bars and record stores across the nation to this day.
If you own a leather jacket, drive a fast car or consider yourself a rebel in any way, Rebel Without a Cause is required viewing.
Let us know in the comments section below if you like this post, and what movies and shows you’d like us to cover in future installments.