"Rebel Without a Cause" made quite a splash when it was released in 1955. Fat and happy in the postwar boom, American parents spent a lot of time patting themselves on the back for they way they were raising their kids. Then along comes a movie that had the gall to portray affluent white teenagers as alienated and confused. It was an eye-opener.
Dean plays Jim Stark, a disgruntled youth with an unhappy home life. His father (Jim Backus) is the ultimate henpecked husband, his mother (Ann Doran) a domineering shrew so image-conscious that the family has moved every time Jim has gotten into trouble. We meet him on Easter night, as he is picked up by the police for public drunkenness and taken to juvenile hall. There, we meet the other major characters: Judy (Natalie Wood), who was picked up wandering the streets after a fight with her father, and Plato (Sal Mineo), who celebrated his lonely birthday by shooting a litter of puppies with a handgun.
The story unfolds over the next 24 hours. Jim runs into trouble with the established crowd at his new school, and starts off a chain reaction that ultimately leads to tragedy for all of them.
We focus on Dean because of his untimely death and obvious screen presence, but the most powerful performance belonged to Sal Mineo. Jim and Judy are strong enough to survive their problems, Plato isnt. He has already retreated into a fantasy world when Jim comes along; when Jim inadvertently disrupts the fantasy, Plato finally cracks. Mineo conveys all of Platos emotions from puppyish devotion to barely-concealed violence with his huge, dark eyes, only hinting at what is really going on inside.
Natalie Wood becomes window dressing by the final act. Her function was to...