Rebel Without a Cause 4K UHD Review: A Beautiful Film that Shoots You in the Heart

Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause concerns itself with children learning how to be adults and their parents who never grew out of being children. Jim (James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), and “Plato” (Sal Mineo) meet late one night in a police station. Jim was brought in for public intoxication, Judy was out after curfew, and Plato killed a bag full of puppies. That’s right: drunk, out too late, and killed a bag full of puppies! Needless to say, of the mixed-up youths, Plato may need the most help. Jim’s parents are constantly bickering, and Jim is angry because he believes his father lets his mother push him around. Judy believes that as she becomes a woman, her father no longer loves her and believes she is becoming a tramp. Plato killed a bag full of puppies! Also, his father left the family years ago and his mother copes by disappearing for months at a time.

During a school trip to the Griffith Observatory (all of the actors who play high school students are in their early- to mid-twenties…it is an aspect of the film the viewer just needs to ignore), Jim gets crosswise with the local gang leader Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) and bests him in a switchblade fight. To save his honor, Buzz challenges Jim to a game of Chickie-Run – race a couple of stolen cars toward a cliff and the last to jump from the car to safety is the winner. Unfortunately, Buzz’s jacket gets stuck on his car’s door handle and Buzz flies over the cliff to his death. Jim wants to do the right thing and basically asks his father (Jim Backus) how to act like a man. Unhappy with his father’s response, Jim goes to the police station to confess about the crash; however, for reasons of plot, he is turned away.

Jim, Judy, and Plato head to an abandoned mansion where they play “house” and Jim and Judy begin to fall in love. Plato is woken up by members of the gang who want to keep the three of them from going to the police, and Plato just absolutely loses it and starts shooting people. Let’s not forget that Plato killed a bag full of puppies! After the mansion, the action turns back to Griffith Observatory where Jim, Judy, and Plato have been surrounded by the police. Jim and Judy do their best to talk Plato down off his ledge and lead us to an ending that is bittersweet.

Everybody talks about James Dean’s performance in Rebel Without a Cause, but not many actors are given much to do in his wake. Sal Mineo’s Plato genuinely comes off as some sort of sociopath (he killed a bag full of puppies after all). Natalie Wood’s Judy is whiny and causes some of the problems with the local gang. After Dean, the real stars of the film are Jim Backus as Jim’s father and Corey Allen as gang leader Buzz Gunderson. Backus brings multi-dimensional depth to what could have been just a simpering old fool. You can see in his eyes that he wants to be a man for his son who needs him, but it is written all over his face that he is unlikely to ever live up to expectations. Allen is sinister and benevolent at the same time. His, “I like you,” to a nervous Jim before the Chickie-Run is the best delivered line in the film.

Bonus Materials on both Blu-ray Disc and 4K UHD:

  • Commentary by Douglas L. Rathgeb, Author of The Making of Rebel Without a Cause

Bonus Materials (on Blu-ray Disc Only):

  • Behind the Scenes: James Dean Remembered
  • Behind the Scenes: Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents
  • Behind the Scenes: Dennis Hopper: Memories from the Warner Lot
  • Screen Tests
  • Wardrobe Tests
  • Black & White Deleted Scenes Without Sound
  • Color Deleted Scenes Without Sound
  • Behind the Cameras
  • Theatrical Trailer
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Greg Hammond

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