Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

In director Nicholas Ray's seminal, classic, melodramatic "Romeo and Juliet' tale - it was mostly a story of rebellion and angst in the life of an unsettled, often-uprooted, teenaged, new-kid-in-town - over a 24-30 hour period.

It was the second of iconic anti-hero James Dean's three career films and the best archetypal 50s film of its kind regarding the generation gap, troubled and confused 50s youth and juvenile delinquency. Other contemporary films included The Wild One (1954) and The Blackboard Jungle (1955).

  • in the opening sequence set in the lobby of a Los Angeles police station late at night, the three main teenaged characters (all alienated, outcast and misfit youth who lacked a solid male or 'father' role model) crossed paths and were introduced: troublemaker Jim Stark (James Dean) had been arrested for public drunkenness after being found lying on a sidewalk curb with a wind-up toy monkey next to him; pretty but unloved 16 year-old Judy (Natalie Wood) in a bright-red outfit with matching red lipstick had been cited for curfew violation after running away from home to make her father notice her; and emotionally-disturbed, anguished 'orphan' John "Plato" Crawford (Sal Mineo) who had been abandoned by his neglectful and irresponsible parents and was being cared for by the family's black housekeeper-maid (Marietta Canty), and had recently killed a litter of puppies [Note: Plato's character was considered to be one of the earliest and more blatant portrayals of a troubled gay teen on film, although semi-disguised due to the Hays film code at the time. The fate of the puppies tied Plato's situation to how puppies are ultimately abandoned by their mother and never know their father.]
  • Judy delivered a "dirty tramp" speech to patient, sympathetic juvenile-offenders officer Ray Fremick (Edward C. Platt) about her father's cruelty when she dressed up and wore lipstick, and he resisted and reproached her grown-up maturity: "He must hate me. He hates me....I don't think, I know. He looks at me like I was the ugliest thing in the world. He doesn't like my friends. He doesn't like one thing about me. He called me - he called me a dirty tramp, my own father... I don't know, I mean, maybe he doesn't mean it, but he acts like he does. We were all together. We were gonna celebrate Easter and we were gonna catch a double bill. Big deal! So I put on my new dress and I came out, and he grabbed my face and he started rubbing off all the lipstick. I thought he'd rub off my lips. And I ran out of that house"
  • Jim's often-bickering and love-smothering parents arrived to pick him up: his ineffectual, hen-pecked, milquetoast father Mr. Frank Stark (James Backus, the voice of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo) and his mother Carol Stark (Ann Doran); the alienated Jim expressed his frustrated rage and agony when he screamed at them: "You're tearing me apart!...You say one thing, he says another, and everybody changes back again"
  • in officer Ray's office, Jim's bottled up energy caused him to box bare-knuckled with Ray's large wooden desk, venting his pent-up crazed energy; he then continued his description of his dysfunctional family that kept moving from town to town to protect him, especially his passive, weak, henpecked and 'chicken' father: "It's a zoo. He always wants to be my pal, you know? But how can I give him anything? If he's, well, I mean I love him and all that type of stuff, and I-I mean, I don't want to hurt him. But then, I don't, I don't, well I don't know what to do anymore, except maybe die...."

Jim Pummeling Officer Ray's Desk with Fists - in Frustration

Jim Counseled by Officer Ray About His Dysfunctional Family

Jim About His 'Chicken' Father: "I don't ever want to be like him"
  • Jim also expressed a wish that his "chicken" father (a weak and timid role model) would one day stand up to his domineering and overbearing mother who was only concerned about keeping up an image of respectability: "If he had guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she'd be happy and then she'd stop pickin' on him, because they make mush outta him... I'll tell you one thing, I don't ever want to be like him...How can a guy grow up in a circus like that?...Boy, if, if I had one day when, when I didn't have to be all confused, and didn't have to feel that I was ashamed of everything...If I felt that I belonged someplace, you know, then..."
  • just before Jim's first day of school at a new HS, Dawson High, he questioned Judy who lived in his neighborhood: ("You live here, don't you?") - followed by her response: "Who lives?"; she asked: "You wanna carry my books," then refused his offer of a ride and went off with a carload of other teens: ("I go with the kids"); the delinquent gang was led by Judy's leather-jacketed boyfriend Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen); her last words to Jim were an insult: "I bet you're a real yo-yo"; Jim was treated with contempt by Buzz and his rowdy gang of cohorts, including Goon (Dennis Hopper) and Moose (Nick Adams)
  • later in the day during a science field trip to the Griffith Observatory, after a planetarium show, HS newcomer Jim engaged in a choreographed, tense switchblade knife-fight with Buzz outside, and then the two challenged each other to participate in a deadly drag race ("chickie run") that evening
  • in their homes that same day after school, both Judy and Jim experienced family tensions - Jim was embarrassed by his father's indecisiveness, lack of understanding and weak-willed cowardice, while Judy was scolded by her insensitive and sexist father when she tried to kiss him
  • when Jim returned home, he found his frilly, apron-clad father ludicrously positioned on his knees on the upstairs landing cleaning up a spilled tray of food - his cowardly, emasculated father was not willing to admit the accident to his mother: "Shhh. Listen, I'd better, better clean it up before she sees it" - Jim pleaded with his weak and foolish dad to stand and be a man, and was unable to receive advice about how to stand up and defend one's honor when challenged
  • feeling unloved in her home, Judy forced her father (William Hopper) to give her a kiss at the family's meal table after he had returned from work: ("Daddy?... Haven't you forgotten something?"), but he pushed her away: "What's the matter with you? You're getting too old for that kind of stuff, kiddo. I thought you stopped doing that long ago..."; Judy begged to be loved and appreciated: "Girls don't love their father? Since when? Since I got to be 16?" - then, when she tried to steal another kiss, her father slapped and chastised her with a reprimanding tone ("Stop that! Sit down!"); Judy fled from her unwelcoming father; after he called her a "glamour puss," she left the house and slammed the door: "This isn't my home"; her father admitted: "I don't know what to do. All of a sudden, she's, she's a problem; her mother (Rochelle Hudson) attempted to be reassuring, but admitted that she too didn't know how to help their problematic adolescent daughter: "She'll outgrow it dear, it's just the age...It's just the age when nothing fits."
16 Year-Old Judy Lacking Affection From Her Father
  • during the sea-side cliff challenge competition (known as a "chickie run") in cars between Jim and Buzz, Judy signaled the start of the race, that suddenly and tragically turned lethal when Buzz became trapped inside his stolen hot-rod car by his jacket sleeve, and his vehicle plunged over the edge of the cliff and he was killed; Jim extended his hand to Judy and touched her fingertips and then took her hand, while Plato stood in the background between them; drawn together, Jim drove both of them home
The Deadly "Chickie Run"

Buzz Just Before Hot-Rod Car Accident

Jim and Judy Touching Hands After Buzz's Death
  • Jim returned to his home after the lethal chickie run, and drank milk directly from the bottle, and then put the cold glass on his forehead and cheek to cool himself; he wished to appeal to his parents following the tragedy of Buzz's death; as his mother approached from upstairs, the camera revolved an entire 180 degrees counter-clockwise to reflect his point of view - he told his parents that he needed a "direct answer" this time, because he was "in trouble": ("They called me chicken. You know, chicken? I had to go because if I didn't I'd never be able to face those kids again. I got in one of those cars, and Buzz, that - Buzz, one of those kids - he got in the other car, and we had to drive fast and then jump, see, before the car came to the end of the bluff, and I got out OK, and Buzz didn't and, uh, killed him...I can't - I can't keep it to myself anymore")
Jim With His Parents After the "Chickie" Run

Father: "Did anyone see you there?"

Mother: "No I don't want you to go to the police"

Jim to His Mother: "You're not tearing me loose again"

Jim Choking His Father
  • his weak-willed, indecisive father first wanted Jim to not get involved ("Did anyone see you there? Did anyone see your license plate?"), and then his mother refused to have him go to the police; his father could not offer support: "But you know that you did the wrong thing. That's the main thing, isn't it?"; Jim wanted to tell the truth to the authorities as his father had instructed him, but his mother suggested that he just not "volunteer" the information, or that they move away again to get away from the problem; Jim objected ("You're not tearing me loose again") and became enraged at both his cowardly father and mother for not standing up for him: ("You better give me something. You better give me something fast...Dad, let me hear you answer her. Dad, Dad, stand up for me"); his father was powerless and impotent, and buried his head in his hands; Jim physically attacked his father and choked him before contemptuously leaving
  • under a moonlit sky, Jim found Judy sitting next to his driveway when he drove up; she was wrapped tightly in a pink coat to keep warm. She greeted him with an affectionate name: "Hello, Jamie," and he was surprised. She warned: "They'll be looking for you...It doesn't matter to them," referring to the earlier, deadly chicken-run car race. She admitted: "I'm just numb." He leaned forward and confided in her: "You know something? I woke up this morning, you know. And the sun was shining and it was nice and all that type of stuff. And the first thing - I saw you. And, uh, I said, 'Boy, this is gonna be one terrific day, so you better live it up, 'cause tomorrow you'll be nothin'.' See? And I almost was"; she apologized for treating him poorly on the first day of school: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I treated you mean today. You shouldn't believe what I say when I'm with the rest of the kids. Nobody, nobody acts sincere"; under a moonlit sky, he kissed her for the first time - sweetly on the side of her forehead - she told him: "Your lips are soft"
  • the outcast and misfit trio of juveniles formed a strong bond against both their insensitive parents (completely unjust, dysfunctional, ineffectual, or callous) and their peers, as they searched for their identities. In particular, Plato came to look upon Jim and Judy as his married 'surrogate' parents
  • the threesome (acting as a "family" with Jim and Judy pretending to be a married couple) met up to find refuge and solace together for the night while exploring and touring an abandoned and deserted mansion (with an empty swimming pool) near the observatory
  • Plato assumed the part of a real estate agent leading the pretend 'newlyweds' through the run-down Gothic property with a lighted candelabra: ("Well, what do you think of my castle?"); like a surrogate family, Jim had his head in Judy's lap, with Plato the 'child' at their feet; before leaving to explore further, Judy and Jim noticed the sleeping Plato's red and blue mismatched socks and laughed - Jim commented: "Must have been a nervous day..."
  • settling down for the night, Judy opened her heart to Jim in a very intimate sequence, as she laid next to him and confessed why she was falling in love with him. She asked: "Is this what it's like to love somebody?...What kind of a person do you think a girl wants?" She agreed that she wanted "a man" - "but a man who can be gentle and sweet - like you are." To her, Jim was a man who was very different from her irresponsible and unloving father. She added: "Someone who doesn't run away when you want them. Like being Plato's friend when nobody else liked him. That's being strong." She transferred her love for her father to a new heroic man and ideal partner - Jim. He had the traits of a man who was brave and strong (and wouldn't run away or abandon her), caring, responsible, gentle and sweet with peaceful instincts.

    Jim: (responding favorably): "Oh, wow...We're not gonna be lonely anymore. Ever, ever. Not you or me."
    Judy: (confiding, as she nuzzled closer) "I love somebody. All the time I've been, I've been looking for someone to love me. And now I love somebody. And it's so easy. Why is it easy now?"
    Jim: "I don't know. It is for me, too."
    Judy: (confessing her love) "I love you, Jim. I really mean it."
    Jim: "Well, I'm glad." (He turned toward her and their lips found each other.)

  • in the final tragic, senseless and violent scene - after being pursued and assaulted by Buzz's gang at the mansion (and believing that Jim and Judy had deserted him), Plato (with his mother's hand-gun) shot one of the gang members, and then fled toward the observatory, where he was also pursued by police after he had fired at them; he barricaded himself inside; alerts brought Plato’s housekeeper, juvenile officer Ray and the Stark parents to the scene, as well as Jim and Judy
  • to calm him and in an attempt to disarm Plato, Jim traded his red jacket for Plato's gun (and was able to secretly remove the bullets before returning the gun). At dawn, Plato panicked when caught in a spotlight and rushed out of the observatory - appearing to be armed when he rushed at the police foolishly brandishing his gun (unloaded), and was shot down and killed. Jim tried to protect his friend, but failed. He called out with his arm outstretched: "I got the bullets, look!"
  • feeling powerless after Plato was struck down, the distraught Jim knelt down and crawled next to his friend's dead body, mourning over the loss of his surrogate 'son' who was unable to reach the adult world - he asked Plato: "Hey jerk-pot. What did ya do that for?" At the same time, Jim's father promised to be a stronger and more dependable father for Jim, and the two embraced
  • the disconsolate words of Plato's family's distraught black housekeeper provided an epitaph for the film's sacrificial lamb: "This poor baby got nobody. Just nobody."
  • now reconciled with his parents and accepted as a newly-initiated adult, Jim introduced Judy to them and they drove off together as a new day dawned

Jim Lying Drunk on Sidewalk Before Arrest

Judy's 'Dirty Tramp' Speech

Orphaned, Puppy-Killing 'Plato'

Jim to His Father in Police Station: "You're tearing me apart!"

Judy: "You wanna carry my books?"

Judy's Statements to Jim: "Who lives?", "I go with the kids", and "You're a real yo-yo"

Jim Called a "Chicken" by Buzz: "You shouldn't have called me that"

Jim's Switchblade Knife Fight at Planetarium Against Buzz

Jim's Emasculated Father

Jim With Cold Bottle of Milk after the 'Chickie' Run

Jim: "This is gonna be one terrific day"

Jim and Judy's First 'Kiss' After Her Apology: "Your lips are soft"

The "Family" Trio of Characters in a Deserted Mansion

Laughing at Plato's Mis-Matched Socks

Judy's Profession of Love for Jim in the Mansion

Jim Removing Bullets from Plato's Gun

Plato Shot Dead

Jim's Failed Effort to Protect Plato: ("I got the bullets, look!")

"Hey, jerk-pot. What did ya do that for?"

Jim's Anguish at Plato's Death

The Words of Plato's Black Housekeeper ("This poor baby got nobody")


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