HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 46 of 50)
Nicholas Ray's mid-50's drama about alienated youth still packs a punch if you can look past the fact that a lot of what might have been needed in the picture would have never made it past the 1955 censors. But it's still a gripping film and the themes ring true.
Of course, it is also noted as the defining role of the too brief career of James Dean. James plays Jim Stark, a student who seems more like someone trying to find himself than a rebel. But he's a complex character, aided by Dean's charisma and somewhat surprising empathy he shows for those around him.
But equally strong is Sal Mineo, whose Plato is clearly meant to be homosexual as much as a 50's movie could portray one. How did the scene when Plato is lovingly hugging Jim's jacket get past the censors? I'm glad it did, it's a great moment!
The third youth is the girl, Natalie Wood, who has also has a father that can't relate to her and only seems to begin to find herself when she is around Jim. I didn't think her story is as well developed as the other two, but I certainly still have an affection for this trio who all died too soon in real life.
Ray wanted the ending to resemble a Greek tragedy and Plato's demise achieves that in my book.
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Jim Backus. Most people remember Jim for his broadly comic roles, especially as Thurston Howell on Gilligan's Island. He was also the voice of Mr. Magoo for many years as well. It's interesting to see him in more dramatic roles. He played the hard working, but out-classed prosecutor in Angel Face, but his role as Dean's ineffectual and emasculated father in Rebel Without a Cause is probably his defining movie role. Like Jim, he's a complex character in his own right. I'm not sure whether to dislike him, root for him or feel sorry for him. A little bit of all of the above, I suppose. Nice work, Mr. Howell and nice apron.