Peeper (1975, directed by Peter Hyams)


Peeper gets off to a good start, with a Humphrey Bogart look alike standing on a dark street corner and reading the opening credits in a reasonable approximation of Bogart’s unmistakable voice.  It all goes down hill from there.

Peeper stars Michael Caine as Leslie C. Tucker, a cockney private detective who is working in Los Angeles in the late 40s.  Tucker is hired by a shady businessman named Anglich (Michael Constantine).  Anglich explains that he knows that he has a daughter but he doesn’t know who or where she is.  He wants Tucker to track her down.  It doesn’t take much time for Tucker to conclude that Anglich’s daughter might be a member of the wealthy and quirky Pendergrast family.  In fact, Tucker thinks that Anglich’s daughter might be Ellen Pendergrast (Natalie Wood, who seems to be bored with the role).  It should be a simple enough case to solve but there are numerous complications along with two thugs (played by Timothy Carey and Don Calfa) who, for some reason, are out to get Anglich and Tucker.

It’s hard to know what to make of Peeper.  It’s meant to be an homage to the detective films of the 40s but it also tries to parody the genre.  Unfortunately, Peter Hyams has never been a director known for his light touch and, in this film, his idea of comedy is to have everyone shout their lines.  (Michael Constantine is the worst offender.)  Michael Caine is also miscast in the lead.  The film tries to get some comedic mileage out of Caine delivering Bogart-style dialogue in his cockney accent but it’s a joke that’s never as funny as the film seems to think.

Peeper was a critical and box office failure but fortunately, there were better things in store for both Michael Caine and Peter Hyams.  Hyams went on to direct Capricorn One while Michael Caine established himself as one of the most durable character actors around.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Splendor in the Grass (dir by Elia Kazan)


What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind…

— “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

The 1962 film, Splendor in the Grass, takes place in Kansas shortly before the start of the Great Depression.  Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are two teenagers in love but, as we learn, youthful love does not always translate into adult happiness.

Bud and Deanie are idealistic and in love but they’re from different social classes.  Bud is the son of a boisterous oilman named Ace (Pat Hingle) and Ace acts much like you would expect a millionaire named Ace to behave.  Bud’s parents are determined that he attend Yale and that he marry someone else from a wealthy family.  They don’t want him to turn out like his older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), who drinks, smokes, and is rumored to have recently had an abortion.  Meanwhile, Deanie is repeatedly told by her mother that she must always remain a “good girl” and not give in to the temptation to have premarital sex with either Bud or any other boy.  If she does, she’ll be forever branded a bad girl and she’ll pretty much end up with a reputation like Ginny’s.

(Interestingly enough, Ace doesn’t have any problem with Bud finding  himself a bad girl, nor does he have a problem with taking his son to a speakeasy later in the film.  As far as society in concerned, being “good” and following the rules only applies to women.)

Needless to say, things don’t work out well for either Deanie or Bud.  Bud is so frustrated that Deanie won’t have sex with him that he dumps her and then has the first of several breakdowns.  When Deanie’s attempt to win Bud back by acting more like Ginny fails, she ends up going out with a classmate named Toots Tuttle (Gary Lockwood).  Nothing good ever comes from going out on a date with someone named Toots Tuttle.  That’s certainly the case here as Deanie and Bud both struggle with the demands of a hypocritical society that expects and encourages Bud to behave in a certain way but which also condemns Deanie for having desires of her own.  And, of course, the entire time that Bud and Deanie’s drama is playing out, we’re aware that the clock is ticking and soon the stock market is going to crash and change everyone’s lives forever.

It’s kind of a depressing film, to be honest.  I’ve always found it to be rather sad.  When we first meet them, Deanie and Bud seem as if they’re perfect for each other but, throughout the entire film, the world seems to be conspiring to keep them apart.  By the end of the film, they’ve both found a kind of happiness but we’re painfully aware that it’s not the happiness that either one was expecting while they were still in school.  The film suggests that type of happiness might be impossible to attain and a part of growing up is realizing that there is no such thing as perfection.  Instead, there’s just making the best of wherever you find yourself.

There’s a scene in this film where Natalie Wood nearly drowns and it always freaks me out, both because of my own fear of drowning and the fact that it foreshadows what would eventually happen to Natalie in 1982.  (The fact that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner’s yacht was called “Splendour” doesn’t help.)  Natalie herself was also deeply scared of drowning and just filming the scene undoubtedly took a lot of courage on Natalie’s part.  But then again, Natalie Wood’s entire performance is courageous.  Natalie Wood gives an emotional and intense performance as Deanie, holding nothing back and it’s impossible not to get emotional while watching her.  Making his film debut, Warren Beatty is a bit of a stiff as Bud, though he’s certainly handsome and you can tell why Deanie would have found him attractive.  (In high school, you always assume that the boring, handsome guys actually have more depth than they let on.)  By the end of the film, you understand that Deanie deserved better than Bud.  Then again, Deanie deserved better than just about everything life had to offer her.  But Deanie survived and endured and made the best of what she was given because, really, what else could she had done?  What other choice did she have?

For her performance in Splendor in the Grass, Natalie Wood received her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  She lost to Sophia Loren for Two Women and …. well, actually, Loren deserved the award.  But so did Wood.  1961 would have been a great year for a tie.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Pictures: The 1950s


The Governor’s Ball, 1958

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1950s.

The Third Man (1950, dir by Carol Reed)

Now, it should be noted that The Third Man was not ignored by the Academy.  It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was nominated for both editing and Carol Reed’s direction.  But, even with that in mind, it’s somewhat amazing to consider all of the nominations that it didn’t get.  The screenplay went unnominated.  So did the famous zither score.  No nominations for Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, or even Orson Welles!  And finally, no Best Picture nomination.  1950 was a good year for the movies so competition was tight but still, it’s hard to believe that the Academy found room to nominate King Solomon’s Mines but not The Third Man.

Rear Window (1954, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Alfred Hitchcock directed some of his best films in the 50s, though few of them really got the recognition that they deserved upon their initial release.  Vertigo is often described as being Hitchcock’s masterpiece but, to be honest, I actually prefer Rear Window.  This film finds the master of suspense at his most playful and, at the same time, at his most subversive.  Casting Jimmy Stewart as a voyeur was a brilliant decision.  This film features one of my favorite Grace Kelly performances.  Meanwhile, Raymond Burr is the perfect schlubby murderer.  Like The Third Man, Rear Window was not ignored by the academy.  Hitchcock was nominated and the film also picked up nods for its screenplay, cinematography, and sound design.  However, it was not nominated for best picture.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955, dir by Nicholas Ray)

Nicholas Ray’s classic film changed the way that teenagers were portrayed on film and it still remains influential today.  James Dean is still pretty much the standard to which most young, male actors are held.  Dean was not nominated for his performance here.  (He was, however, nominated for East of Eden that same year.)  Instead, nominations went to Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, and the film’s screenplay.  Amazingly, in the same year that the forgettable Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing was nominated for best picture, this popular and influential film was not.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir by Robert Aldrich)

It’s unfortunate but not surprising that Kiss Me Deadly was totally ignored by the Academy.  In the mid-to-late 50s, the Academy tended to embrace big productions.  There was no way they were going to nominate a satirical film noir that featured a psychotic hero and ended with the end of the world.  That’s a shame, of course, because Kiss Me Deadly has proven itself to be more memorable and influential than many of the films that were nominated in its place.

Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles)

Speaking of underappreciated film noirs, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil is one of the craftiest and most brilliant films ever made.  So, of course, no one appreciated it when it was originally released.  This cheerfully sordid film features Welles at his best.  Starting with a memorable (and oft-imitated) tracking shot, the film proceeds to take the audience into the darkest and most eccentric corners of a small border town.  Everyone in the cast, from the stars to the bit players, is memorably odd.  Even the much mocked casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican pays off wonderfully in the end.

The 400 Blows (1959, dir by Francois Truffaut)

Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical directorial debut was released in the United States in 1959 and it was Oscar-eligible.  Unfortunately, it only picked up a screenplay nomination.  Of course, in the late 50s, the last thing that the Academy was going to embrace was a French art film from a leftist director.  However, The 400 Blows didn’t need a best picture nomination to inspire a generation of new filmmakers.

Up next, in an hour or so, we continue on to the 60s!

 

Ride Away: John Wayne in John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS (Warner Brothers 1956)


cracked rear viewer

John Ford’s  THE SEARCHERS is without question an American Film Classic. I’d even go as far as saying it’s my second all-time favorite film, directly behind CASABLANCA. Every shot is a Remington Old West masterpiece, every actor perfect in their role, large or small, and not a minute of footage is wasted. The film has also stirred up quite a bit of controversy over time for John Wayne’s portrayal of the main character Ethan Edwards.

The plot is structured like Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, but let’s get it out of the way right now: Ethan Edwards is no hero. He’s a mean, bitter, unreconstructed Confederate who’s been on the shady side of the law since war’s end. When he returns to his brother Aaron’s homestead, he makes no bones about his distaste for “half-breed” Martin Pawley (really an eighth Cherokee). His hatred of Native Americans even extends to their dead, as…

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Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Silver Chalice (dir by Victor Saville)


If you ever needed proof that everyone has to start somewhere, look no further than the 1954 biblical epic, The Silver Chalice.

The Silver Chalice features the film debut of Paul Newman, who later proved himself to be a legitimately great actor.  It’s true that, unlike a lot of actors, Newman made his debut in a starring role.  He never had to humiliate himself with any one-line roles or walk-on bits.  No, Paul got to humiliate himself with a starring role.

Paul Newman was 29 years old when he played Basil, a former slave turned sculptor.  Not only did Newman bear a disconcerting resemblance to Ben Savage (of Boy Meets World fame) but he gave a performance that was so bad that it’s kind of a shock that he ever worked again.  Basil is a passionate artist, one who survived being betrayed by his adopted family and slavery.  Newman comes across like a nice, young man from Iowa.  Usually, Newman looks miserable but occasionally, he flashes a somewhat weak smile.  When Basil gets mad, Newman speaks in a squeaky voice.  When Basil is feeling reverent, Newman furrows his brow like a hungover Russell Brand staring straight into the sun.

“But me and Topanga are soul mates…”

Then again, I’m not sure that any actor could have given a good performance as Basil.  The Silver Chalice has a terrible script, one that was written by Lesser Samuels.  (I’ll avoid the obvious joke about whether or not The Silver Chalice would have been better if written by Greater Samuels.)  Apparently, before Newman was cast, the producers pursued James Dean for the role.  I’m sure we all would have enjoyed seeing Dean slouch his way through the film but I doubt that even he could have done much with The Silver Chalice.

The Silver Chalice is based on a novel, which perhaps explains why there’s so many characters and so many unnecessary subplots.  Basil follows a path that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a 1950s biblical epic.  He’s a young Greek who is adopted into a noble Roman family.  When his kindly stepfather dies, Basil’s stepsiblings sell him into slavery.  It’s not an easy life but Basil is a talented sculptor so Joseph of Arimathea commissions him to make a silver chalice for the Holy Grail.  Basil goes from poor to rich to poor again to rich again to ultimately saved by grace.  He even gets to do the same walking towards Heaven thing that Richard Burton did at the end of The Robe.

Meanwhile, Simon Magus (Jack Palance) is wowing the citizenry with his magic tricks and claiming to be the risen Messiah.  Simon’s assistant just happens to be Helena, who knew Basil when he was younger.  Young Helena is played by dark-haired Natalie Wood.  Grown-up Helena is played by blonde Virgina Mayo.  They were both good actresses but there’s seriously no way that Natalie Wood would have ever grown up to be Virginia Mayo.

Jack Palance pretty much steals the movie, mostly because he gets to wear the silliest costumes:

Poor Paul Newman has to settle for a tunic and a miniskirt, while Jack Palance gets to wear this:

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the story of Simon Magus.  He tried to show off by flying over the Roman Forum so St. Peter said a prayer and Simon promptly plunged to his death.  Take that, you Gnostic!

Another interesting thing about The Silver Chalice is that the sets are very deliberately fake.  I don’t mean that they look cheap.  I mean, much as in the style of German Expressionism, the sets are specifically designed to remind you that you’re watching a movie.

For instance, look at the wall behind Palance:

Look at this pleasure palace:

Look at Rome at night:

The sets are extremely dream-like and yet everything else about the film is extremely slow and conventional.  One wonders if director Victor Saville was trying to make an art film, though there’s nothing else in his long filmography that would suggest that Saville was anything other than a workmanlike director.  In fact, most biblical epics of the time took a lot of pride in looking as expensive and “accurate” as possible.  Major studios in the 1950s were not known for artistic experimentation, especially when it came to Biblical epics.  It’s hard to know what to make of The Silver Chalice‘s artistic flourishes, which is why it’s easier to just focus on what a terrible performance Paul Newman gives.

That’s certainly what Paul did!  In 1966, when The Silver Chalice finally premiered on TV, Newman took out a newspaper ad in which he apologized for his performance and then asked people not watch.  Apparently, he also used to show the movie during parties on the condition that his guests mock the film while watching it.

I don’t really blame him.  It’s an amazingly dull film and Newman looks absolutely miserable in nearly every other scene.  However, because it did star Paul Newman, The Silver Chalice will always have a life on TCM.

Speaking of TCM, they last broadcast this film on February 24th as part of their 31 Days of Oscar.  (It was nominated for both its sets and its score.)  That is when I recorded it.  And, after watching it yesterday, I was more than happy to erase it.

Here’s The Lux Radio Theater Version of Miracle on 34th Street!


I’ve spent so much time talking about how much I love It’s A Wonderful Life that I’m running the risk of overlooking my second favorite Christmas film of all time, 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street!

So, now that you’ve had a chance to enjoy the radio version of It’s A Wonderful Life and the behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of that classic film, why not sit back and listen to Lux Radio Theater’s production of Miracle on 34th Street!?

This was originally broadcast on December 22nd, 1947 and it features the cast from the film — Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, and Maureen O’Hara!

And remember — Santa Claus is real!  The U.S. Post Office says so!

 

 

 

METEOR is a Crashing Bore (AIP 1979)


cracked rear viewer

meteor1

American-International Pictures had gotten pretty fancy-schmancy by the late 70’s. The studio was leaving their exploitation roots behind and branching out to bigger budgeted films like FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE, LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, with bigger name stars for marquee allure. Toward the end of 1979 they released METEOR, a $16 million dollar, star-studded, special-effects laden, sci-fi/ disaster film spectacle that bombed at the box-office and contributed to the company’s demise.

meteor2

Coming at the tail end of the disaster cycle, METEOR is formulaic as hell. Take a group of well-known stars (Sean Connery, Natalie Wood , Karl Malden , Brian Keith , Martin Landau, Henry Fonda ), give them a disastrous menace to combat (in this case a five-mile wide meteor hurtling toward Earth), add some conflict (US/USSR Cold War relations), and some scenes of destruction, and voila! instant disaster movie! Unfortunately, by 1979 audiences had already grown tired…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #25: West Side Story (dir by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins)


West_Side_Story_poster

Nearly two weeks ago, I started on something that I call Embracing the Melodrama, Part II.  For the next month or so, I will be reviewing, in chronological order, 126 examples of cinematic melodrama.  I started things off by reviewing the 1927 classic Sunrise and now, 24 reviews later, we’re ready to start in on one of my favorite decades, the 1960s!

And what better way to start the 60s than be taking a look at the 1961 best picture winner, West Side Story?

Being a lifelong dancer, I have to admit that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen West Side Story.  If you love to dance, this is one of those films that you simply have to see.  Of the various musicals that have won best picture, West Side Story is arguably the best.  Based on a hit Broadway show (which was itself rather famously based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), West Side Story was co-directed by the great choreographer Jerome Robbins and it features some of the greatest dance numbers ever filmed.  If you don’t get excited while watching the Sharks and the Shark Girls arguing about America, then there’s really no hope for you.  Tonight Quintet, Somewhere, A Boy Like That, Maria … even Gee, Officer Krupke, has there ever been another musical score that just leaves you wanting to sing as much as West Side Story does?

(I mean, I’ll be the first admit that I absolutely love the theme song from Santa Claus Conquers The Martians but it can’t even compare to West Side Story!)

What’s funny is that, in between viewings of the film, I always seem to forget just how good West Side Story actually is.  (Fortunately, this also means that I’m pleasantly surprised every time I watch the movie.)  In theory, this is an easy film to joke about.  It tells the story of street gangs who are apparently just as good at dancing as they are at fighting.  The all-white Jets snap their fingers and tell us that when you’re a jet, you’re the best.  The Puerto Rican Sharks are moving in on the Jets’s territory.  The two leaders of the gangs — Riff (Russ Tamblyn) and Bernardo (George Chakiris) — want to settle thing with a “rumble.”  And it’s easy for contemporary audiences to laugh because “rumble” is such an old-fashioned way of saying things that it’s now one of those terms that’s only used when one is trying to be ironic or snarky.

(For instance, I was with some friends at the movies and the people sitting behind us kept talking.  One of my friends told them to shut up.  One of the loud people replied that we were the ones who need to shut up.  As the insults escalated, I finally said, “Y’all — do we really have to have a rumble right now?”  Unfortunately, everyone was too busy arguing to appreciate my pitch perfect delivery.)

Riff’s best friend is Tony (Richard Beymer).  Tony was a co-founder of the Jets but now, he wants to move on from the gang.  He meets a girl named Maria (Natalie Wood) and the two of them fall in love.  However, Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister.  Her best friend, Anita (Rita Moreno), is Bernardo’s girlfriend.  Loving Tony, in other words, is prohibido.

And, since West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, you can probably guess to what type of tragedy all of this leads.

Now, before I heap too much praise of West Side Story, I do need to admit that, in the role of Tony, Richard Beymer does not exactly radiate charisma.  He’s handsome enough but you never quite buy that he was former member of the Jets.  Since Tony’s singing voice was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant, you do believe everything that he sings.  But otherwise, Richard Beymer comes across as being stiff and rather awkward.

And it doesn’t help, of course, that he’s acting opposite Russ Tamblyn who, in the role of Riff, is a whirlwind of unstoppable energy.  Tamblyn is the one who you remember at the end of the film, followed by George Chakiris.  Compared to those two, Richard Beymer’s performance is just dull.

Fortunately, there’s Maria (played by Natalie Wood with Marni Nixon doing the singing).  Natalie Wood is one of my favorite of the classic Hollywood actresses.  She’s certainly one of the actresses with whom I most idenitfy.  With Richard Beymer sleepwalking through the role of Tony, it falls on Natalie to provide some true emotion to the film’s love story and that’s exactly what she does.  Every time I see West Side Story, I want to be Natalie Wood and I want to have a best friend like Rita Moreno and I want to meet someone like Riff…

Sorry, Tony.

West Side Story is one of the best musicals ever made.  If you’re not dancing and then crying and then dancing while crying as you watch West Side Story, then you’re doing it wrong.

Shattered Politics #30: The Candidate (dir by Michael Ritchie)


Candidateposter

“What do we do now?” — Democratic senate candidate Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in The Candidate (1972)

When I reviewed Advise & Consent, I mentioned that if anyone could prevent billionaire Tom Steyer from winning the Democratic nomination to run in the 2016 California U.S. Senate election, it would be Betty White.  Well, earlier today, Tom Steyer announced that he would NOT be a candidate.  You can guess what that means.  Betty White has obviously already started to set up her campaign organization in California and, realizing that there was no way that he could possibly beat her, Tom Steyer obviously decided to step aside.

So, congratulations to Betty White!  (I would probably never vote for her but I don’t live in California so it doesn’t matter.)  As future U.S. Senator Betty White prepares for the next phase of her career, it would probably be a good idea for her to watch a few movies about what it takes to win political office in the United States.

For example: 1972’s The Candidate.

The Candidate would especially be a good pick for the nascent Betty White senate campaign because the film is actually about a senate election in California!  California’s  U.S. Sen. Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is a Republican who everyone assumes cannot be defeated for reelection.  Democratic strategist Marvin Lucas (a heavily bearded Peter Boyle) is tasked with finding a sacrificial candidate.

The one that Marvin comes up with is Bill McKay (Robert Redford, before his face got all leathery), a 34 year-old lawyer who also happens to be the estranged son of former Governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas, whose wife Helen ran for one of California’s senate seats in 1950).  As opposed to his pragmatic and ruthless father, Bill is idealistic and the only reason that he agrees to run for the Senate is because Marvin promises him that he’ll be able to say whatever he wants.  Marvin assures Bill that Jarmon cannot be beaten but if Bill runs a credible campaign, he’ll be able to run for another office in the future.

However, Jarmon turns out to be a weaker candidate than everyone assumed.  As the charismatic Bill starts to close the gap between himself and Jarmon, he also starts to lose control of his campaign.  He soon finds himself moderating his positions and worrying more about alienating potential voters than stating his true opinions.  (In one of the film’s best scenes, Bill scornfully mutters his standard and generic campaign speech to himself, obviously disgusted with the vapid words that he has to utter in order to be elected.)  The film ends on a properly downbeat note, one that reminds you that the film was made in the 70s but also remains just as relevant and thought-provoking in 2015.

Written by a former political speech writer and directed, in a semi-documentary style, by Michael Ritchie, The Candidate is an excellent film that answer the question as to why all political campaigns and politicians seem to be the same.  The Candidate is full of small details that give the film an air of authenticity even when a familiar face like Robert Redford is on screen.

Whenever I watch The Candidate, I find myself wondering what happened to Bill McKay after the film’s iconic final scene.  Did he ever regain his idealism or did he continue on the path to just becoming another politician.  As much as we’d all like to think that the former is true, it’s actually probably the latter.

That just seems to be the way that things go.

Hopefully, Betty White will learn from Bill McKay’s example.

Back to School #4: Rebel Without A Cause (dir by Nicholas Ray)


You may have heard of this one.

Traditionally, films about teenagers tend to age terribly.  The language, the clothes, the attitudes, and even the humor; it’s all usually out-of-date within five years or so.  One need only watch something like A Summer Place to both see how dated a film can become and to see how one generation’s idol can appear rather ludicrous to future generations.  (And yes, I am talking about Troy Donahue…)  What makes Rebel Without A Cause unique is that it’s a movie about teenagers that was released way back in 1955 and yet, nearly 60 years later, it still feels fresh and relatable.

Of course, it helps that the title character is played by James Dean who, to put it lightly, was no Troy Donahue.

Rebel Without A Cause tells the story of three alienated teenagers trying to survive in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  (“…and they all came from good homes!” the film’s poster informs us.)  Plato (Sal Mineo) is a painfully sensitive 15 year-old who has been abandoned by his parents and is being raised by the family’s maid.  (Since this movie was made in 1955, the fact that Plato is gay is obvious but never explicitly stated.)  Judy (Natalie Wood) is the girlfriend of Buzz (Corey Allen) and is acting out because she feels that’s the only way she can can get her father to pay attention to her.  And then there’s Jim Stark (James Dean), whose family has just moved to Los Angeles and who is constantly in the middle of the fights between his overbearing mother (Ann Doran) and his weak-willed father (Jim Backus).

Rebel Without A Cause 2

During Jim’s first day at high school, he not only manages to make an enemy when Buzz spots him attempting to flirt with Judy but he also gets to go on a field trip to the Griffith Observatory, where the students are told that the entire universe is going to end eventually.  After the field trip, Buzz challenges Jim to a knife fight.  Jim agrees only after the rest of Buzz’s gang (including a young Dennis Hopper) accuse him of being “chicken.”  However, after a security guard breaks up the fight, Buzz challenges Jim to a “chicken run.”

(People in the 50s were obsessed with chickens.)

That night, Jim and Buzz both drive stolen cars towards the edge of a cliff.  The first driver to jump out of his car loses.  Before they start their engines, Buzz smiles and tells Jim, “I like you.”  Yay!  Jim’s finally made a friend!  Uh-oh, Buzz just drove over the cliff and his car exploded!  Well, so much for that friendship.  Now, with Buzz’s gang swearing revenge and their parents incapable of understand what happened, Jim, Judy, and Plato are on the run.  They end up hiding out in an abandoned house and find a brief moment of happiness before the gang and the police show up to ruin everything.

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The challenge of reviewing Rebel Without A Cause is trying to find a new way to say what everybody already knows.  Rebel Without A Cause is a great film that’s distinguished by Nicholas Ray’s sensitive direction and James Dean’s iconic performance in the lead role.  Whenever I see Rebel Without A Cause, I’m always struck by just how much unexpected nuance there is Dean’s interpretation of Jim Stark.  We always think of James Dean as being the epitome of cool and I think we tend to forget that, at least in the beginning of the film, Jim is anything but that.  Instead, he’s awkward and shy.  His attempts to flirt with Judy lead to her calling him “a real yo-yo.”  As much as he tried to fit in with the rest of his classmates, he’s a permanent outsider.  (Just consider what happens with his infamous “moooo” during the presentation at the observatory.)  He has a lot to say but he doesn’t know how to say it and every time that he tries to express what he’s feeling, he’s ignored by adults who don’t have the patience to listen.  Dean brings such a raw intensity to these scenes that I always find myself wanting to reach out and hug him and tell him that everything’s going to be okay, even though I know that it’s not.  Even today, it’s still easy to see why every teenager in the 50s either wanted to be or to be with Jim Stark.

Also, whenever I watch the film, I’m reminded of how much I relate to the character of Judy.  I think that’s because, when I was 16, I might as well have been Judy.  Natalie Wood’s performance might not be as showy as James Dean’s but it’s equally effective.

Of course, one reason why Rebel Without A Cause has become iconic is because James Dean died shortly after filming ended.  (In fact, some of his scenes had to be redubbed by Dennis Hopper, who reportedly could do an exact imitation of Dean’s voice.)  It’s interesting to wonder what would have become of James Dean if he had lived.  Would he have continued to be one of our best actors or would he have eventually been forgotten or forced to appear on television?  Personally, I like to think that James Dean would have remained a great actor but he would have been too much of an iconoclast to remain in Hollywood.  Eventually, in my alternative universe, James Dean moved to Europe and teamed up with Klaus Kinski to star in a series of spaghetti westerns.  And they were great.

As for Rebel Without A Cause, it remains a great movie nearly 60 years after it was first made.  And really, what more needs to be said?

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