A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1955 – Rebel Without a Cause

“You’re tearing me apart!”

Those words were pretty important in 1955. And pretty representative of the disconnect between the older generation and the younger generation. (Words that would also resonate just as loudly and beautifully when directed at Lisa in the iconic chamber drama and winner of seven Academy Awards The Room.)

Times were changing. Kids were listening to rock and roll and coming up with their own culture. The culture of the country was changing. This has been represented countless times in movies. I don’t need to get into that here. The landscape of the country and of film were both changing. And this film came at a very crucial time, and as such, has become one of the greatest and most iconic films of all time.

It’s rare to get a total package like this one. A film that represents actually everything going on in American culture at the time.

It’s about three teenagers, essentially. James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. Dean is the protagonist, who is just disconnected from his parents. His mother runs the house and his father just defers to her and shows no backbone whatsoever. And he tries to connect with his son (there’s a much more extreme version of this in Ordinary People), but it just doesn’t work. And Natalie Wood is a popular girl who is dating the quarterback and all that. And in the middle of the film, Dean and the QB have a chicken race and the QB ends up getting stuck in the car and dying. And after that, she and Dean get closer. And the issues with her home life have to do with her father, who sees her as a whore, essentially, and is emotionally distant. And Sal Mineo is a younger kid, whose father abandoned his family when he was young, and is deeply troubled. And they strike up a friendship, built on the fact that parents don’t understand them, and… ah forget it. It’s iconic. Just watch it if you haven’t.

The movie looks gorgeous. There’s a period in American film… 1955 to 1965… where the movies just look so good. When you see them remastered now, they look better than any other movies from any other era. It’s insane how good they look. And the film is a cultural landmark, and solidified the reputation of James Dean, who revolutionized acting with his method performances, and is really the go-to example of generational gaps.

This is really the first example of teenage angst that’s out there. Any other film that dealt with teenagers dealt with them in that “movie” way. This one, while clearly melodrama, focuses on the new cultural landscape of the country, with the conformity of the culture of the parents mixed with the rebellious attitude of the teenagers. It really spoke to the burgeoning youth culture out there, which is why it’s still heralded as such an important film.

Plus it actually takes place over the course of a day, which is pretty great. Most people don’t remember that.

Anyway, it’s Rebel Without a Cause. It’s the total package for 1955.


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