Well, the Oscars are over, and now it is time for all of us to get back to the Club’s March films. This will be a special week end because we will screen a film both on Friday night, and on Saturday night, at separate locations. First off, we have James Dean’s second feature, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). This film was released several months after his untimely death. The film began being shot in black and white, but there were some fears it would be compared too much to BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955). Warner Brothers was having it filmed in Cinemascope, and it was discovered that any film shot in that wide screen process had to be shot in color, so many of the scenes had to be reshot with costume changes to better match the Warner Color palate. REBEL along with BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, and the earlier youth rebellion film, THE WILD ONE (1953) were considered an important trilogy on the plight of 1950’s youth.
REBEL was directed by Nicholas Ray. He worked in theater in the 1930’s, becoming good friends with Elia Kazan, and John Houseman at the Group Theater, and then later at The Actor’s Studio. He met James Dean through Kazan. Marlon Brando had at first been considered for the part of Jim Stark; but again, proved to be too old for it. Dean was 24 years old when he filmed it. It was nominated for three Oscars, and it was Ray’s only Oscar nomination. Ray did research on street gangs in Los Angeles by spending time with them, and hiring one of them to play in the movie. It was important to Ray to show that juvenile delinquents could come from nice middle class homes and good schools too. Ray, earlier, had directed Humphrey Bogart in KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949), and IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), casting his ex-wife, Gloria Grahame in that one. Some others included THE LUSTY MEN (1952), with Robert Mitchum, and JOHNNY GUITAR (1954), with Joan Crawford. After REBEL he gave us KING OF KINGS (1961) and 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1963).
Nicholas Ray had a lot of leftist leanings, yet was spared persecution from HUAC by being under contract to Howard Hughes at RKO during the early 50’s. Ray had written a treatment he called THE BLIND RUN about the hot rod chicken run. Warner Brothers insisted it be titled REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, which was based on an unrelated book. There were several writers who worked on the script, the first being Clifford Odetts. During the filming of REBEL, Ray had an affair with Natalie Wood, who was also sleeping with Dennis Hopper at the time. Hopper caught the director with Natalie and challenged him to a fist fight. Ray tried to have Hopper fired, but Warner Brothers honored his contract. So Ray left Hopper in the film, but notice he has no focus and very few lines. Debbie Reynolds and Jayne Mansfield both auditioned for the Wood’s part of Judy. It was understood by the cast that the character of Plato (Sal Mineo) was supposed to be gay, but the Motion Picture Code of the time forbade any mention of “homosexuality”. The swimming pool used in the film was the same one used in SUNSET BOULEVARD.
Jim Stark: You’re tearing me apart!
Notice the subtle symbolism on the opening scene of REBEL, when the inebriated Jim is lying in the street next to the toy doll, and he covers it up with paper. Later this scene is mirrored when Jim covers Plato’s body with his red jacket. Dean had actually injured his hands pounding his fists into that drawer early on in the film. All three of the lead characters had dysfunctional or failed fathers. During the switchblade fight they used real knives and Corey Allen actually did cut James Dean in one of the swipes. Ray yelled “Cut”, and Dean yelled at him about ruining the flow of the scene, storming off the set. Alternate endings for the film had Plato falling from the tower at the planetarium, or one with both Plato and Jim being shot and killed in the end; both were abandoned as being too “downbeat”.
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) Directed by Nicholas Ray @ 111 minutes.
The film starred James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Nick Adams, Dennis Hopper, and Corey Allen. Synopsis: A troubled teen, new in high school, is alienated both from his parents and his peers. He befriends two outcasts he met at the local police station, and together they form a bond that will endure despite all odds and adventures. Tagline: Teenage terror torn from today’s headlines. This was blockbuster popular when it was released, nominated for three Oscars, and catapulting James Dean to super star status. Ironically and sadly, all three actors died under tragic circumstances.
Jim Stark: If I had one day when I didn’t have to feel all confused and I didn’t have to feel ashamed of everything. If I felt I belonged someplace. You know?
Roger Ebert wrote: “The film desperately wanted to say something and didn’t know what it is. If it did know, it would lose its fascination. More perhaps than it realized, the film is a subversive document of its time.”
The cinematographer for REBEL was Ernest Haller, another veteran studio lenser who started out working for the studio in 1920, and had shot 45 films before 1929. In his long career he shot DAWN PATROL (1930) and CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) with Errol Flynn, JEZEBEL (1938), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), RHAPSODY IN BLUE (1945), MILDRED PIERCE (1945), HUMORESQUE (1946), JIM THORPE: ALL-AMERICAN (1951). After REBEL he shot GOD’S LITTLE ACRE (1958), MAN OF THE WEST (1959) and LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963).
So folks, start this week end off right and join us on this Friday, March 12, 2010, for the screening of Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). It will be screened at the Center for Spiritual Living, at 206 North J Street, located at the corner of Division and J Streets in Tacoma. As per our Fellowship Ritual, many of us gather early downstairs in the kitchen area, to discuss movies, the club, and life, to partake of the club raffle hoping to win 40% of the cash spent on it, or a DVD from my collection—and to break bread. The Phantom Director and Farishta, who did such a superb job of setting things up for the grand party we had last week end, will have prepared a meal for us. Those who want to can bring bread, cheese, wine, or desserts to share as well. There will be a film short started at 7pm upstairs in the sanctuary. After that we hold the fun raffle and give out the prizes. Then there is an introduction done for the feature film, and REBEL will screen immediately afterward. See you at the movies!