Rebel Without a Cause

Steven Harper PiziksI’ve finally gotten a DVD of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. I watched it today while I was puttering around in the kitchen.

So much homoeroticism.

It’s not that subtle, either. John “Plato” (the nickname is a big clue) is disliked at school, he has a picture of a man hanging in his locker, and he begs Jim (James Dean) to spend the night at his house because “No one’s home there.” Plato gives Jim a seriously hurt/jealous look when Jim arrives at the abandoned mansion with Judy. When Jim and Judy recline together in the same house, Plato joins them, but rests his head on Jim’s arm, not Judy’s. Plato has an absent father, Jim lives with a weak father and domineering mother–two “causes” of homosexuality, according to 1950-speak.

My favorite bit was at the end of the movie. Jim, his arm around Judy, tells his parents, “This is Judy. She’s my friend.” As he escorts Judy away, the parents look at each for a long moment. Then the mom says, “That means he’s . . . ” and they both burst into smiles of pure relief. All too clear the word Mom didn’t say was “straight.”

The movie is hailed as a masterpiece, one of the defining works of cinema of what became the Baby Boomer generation, but I have to say my overall reaction was . . . meh.  The storytelling was slow and clunky.  Even allowing for the time period, the characters were flat and stereotypical.  The plot wandered.  More than once, I found myself saying, “Where is this going?”  It was worth watching as a piece of historical arcana, but I wouldn’t put it on any top ten list, or even top fifty.

–Steven Harper Piziks

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Rebel Without a Cause — 6 Comments

  1. It’s depressing to look at the best-seller lists from, say, 1920. Here is a list: https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~immer/books1920s

    I recognize Zane Grey but not that title — I have read RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE and was unimpressed, so probably I never will. I recognize none of the other names. They are gone with the wind, unknown probably to the end of time. Yet in their day they were very popular indeed.

    If it were not for James Dean’s iconic status the movie probably would be little known today.

  2. I remember watching the movie all the way through and thinking I wanted to slap every single character in it. Including the parents and teachers and cops and, quite possibly, the extras. I don’t get its appeal in much the same way that the appeal of “Catcher in the Rye” eludes me.

    And yeah: how did anyone ever watch the movie without reading the homoeroticism? Maybe because they were distracted by Jim’s self-absorbed whining?

    • Madeleine saved me the trouble: my response echoes hers, right to the last question.

  3. I think it’s hailed as a classic because it put male teenage angst on the big screen in a heavily promoted Hollywood movie. Which is probably much the same reason Catcher in the Rye was such a big deal — it was the literary equivalent. My own tolerance for male teenage angst is pretty low at best. I seem to recall thinking, when I watched James Dean’s movies in college, that it was too bad he died young, because he might have matured into an interesting actor and made better movies.