Cast: James Dean (Jim Stark), Natalie Wood (Judy), Sal Mineo (John ‘Plato’ Crawford), Jim Backus (Frank Stark), Ann Doran (Mrs. Carol Stark), Corey Allen (Buzz Gunderson)
Director: Nicholas Ray
My rating: 6.5 / 10
A rebellious young man with a troubled past comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies. Jim Stark is the new kid in town. He has been in trouble elsewhere; that’s why his family has had to move before.
What’s to Like
The anti-establishment feel of the movie as the key characters refuse to conform to expected roles of teenagers in the 1950s.
What’s not to Like
There’s not really much development of the characters, they don’t learn anything or change as a result of the story with the exception of Jim’s dad Frank Stark who promises to be a better father and stand up to his domineering wife.
This is a weird movie to categorise and get behind. You can see several messages that don’t really go well in modern times in particular that Jim’s mum is too forceful and domineering just be arguing with her husband. The problem being father’s /men’s failure to be more macho is leaving their sons with serious issues.
On the other hand the malaise that people experience when trying to understand how insignificant they are in the scheme of the universe is worthwhile exploring and how boredom and lack of love and support (bad parenting) can lead teenagers to do dangerous activities and become delinquents more easily.
James Dean doesn’t appear to me to be very special, charming or a great actor like I expected given how well he is known with only a few roles before his early death.
Jim Stark (James Dean) starts the movie by trying to keep a low profile after his previous behaviour forced his family to move but eventually doesn’t back down to a challenge from Buzz (Corey Allen) first with a knife fight and later in a tragic game of ‘chicken’ that kill Buzz.
The teenagers seem emotionally distant to their actions as there appears to be little impact on the survivors after Buzz dies. Buzz’s friends are only concerned about the police finding out and go to silence Jim, his girlfriend
Judy (Natalie Wood) and odd younger friend Plato (Sal Mineo). Plato gets killed after using a gun against Buzz’s friend and eventually hunted down and killed by the police.
Jim and the other teenagers don’t have a cause to get behind, they don’t have a plan or a motivation for everything they do other than no to be bored. All parents in the movie are cast in a bad light implying their children’s problems come from their poor or non exist parenting.
Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo both do a lot with material they are given in this movie and I understand why both got attention after the movie was released.
I did fully enjoy this film and I feel it is rated so high due to the later untimely death or its lead but I can see that focusing a movie on a teenager who isn’t clean cut was a major change for movies back in the 1950s so it does warrant some attention.
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sal Mineo) – nominee
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Natalie Wood) – nominee
- Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Nicholas Ray) – nominee