James Dean: Celebrating 80 Years!

James Dean: Celebrating 80 Years!

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Warner Brothers

Certificate: PG
Running Time: 111 minutes

Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Dennis Hopper, Edward Platt

Turner Classic Movies
James Dean Official Website

On the 8th of February, 1931, a little baby boy was born to Mildred and Winton Dean. They would name him James Byron Dean. The rest, as they say, is history because we know the story of the farm boy from Indiana who went to Broadway and became a star, and then an even bigger star with the 3 films he made during his short lifetime.

Today, we celebrate what would have been James Dean’s 80th birthday with a look back on the iconic Rebel Without A Cause (1955).

On October 27th 1955, Warner Brothers released a movie that would change cinema forever and influence generations to come. It was the second film to be released starring James Dean.

Rebel Without A Cause

When Jim Stark (Dean) moves to a new neighbourhood with his parents for a fresh start, he catches the attention of his next door neighbour Judy (Wood) and young misfit Plato (Mineo). While Judy is too cool for Jim to hang with, Plato on the other hand wants to be best friends. The young boy follows him around but doesn’t have any friends of his own. The school bullies, led by Buzz (Allen), give Plato a hard time, but when he spots Jim he sees someone who can provide a few kicks and challenges him to a chickie run later that night. Jim however isn’t too keen on the idea, but when Buzz asks if he’s chicken, it enrages him to the point where there’s no backing out. The chickie run ends with Buzz’s death and Jim is crowned chicken because he was first to leap out of his speeding car. Judy, who is also Buzz’s girlfriend, is there.

Back at home, Jim tries to tell his parents what happened, but his father fails to back him up and his mother doesn’t listen to a word he’s saying. He storms out of the house and ends up going with Judy and Plato to an abandoned mansion in the hills. Away from the meddling and yelling parents, the trio play games in the candlelight and pretend to be a family. Plato Jim and Judy watch over Plato while he sleeps before sneaking away, but Buzz’s friends soon find them and it isn’t long before the meddling adults make matters worse again.

The movie also plays host to another theme; closet homosexuality. The character of Plato harbours desires he doesn’t quite understand yet and is reaching for a father figure. But his desire for Jim as a paternal figure is also mixed with his subconscious desire for him as a partner that he can also love and be accepted by. His feelings manifest as a shy schoolgirl’s crush on a boy at school. He imagines he has known Jim for longer than he has. His fear of being left alone is what makes him panic when he wakes, not finding Jim and Judy, but instead Buzz’s friends.

By the time Rebel Without A Cause began shooting in March 1955, Dean was already creating a buzz around Hollywood, having set screens alight with his blazing performance in Elia Kazan’s East Of Eden (1955). Dean had already been a face on television in many minor roles, and had conquered Broadway with his mesmerizing performance in the Immoralist as the enticing Arab boy who seduces a married man. He was an actor on the rise and climbing high very fast.

Originally intended to be shot in black and white, some of the early scenes had already been filmed but director Nicholas Ray changed his mind when he saw Dean with the red windbreaker jacket. They decided to re-shoot in colour and dyed his red jacket and blue jeans to make the colours appear more vivid to highlight his emotions in contrast to the brown suit and plain colours he wears early in the film. When he changes into his red jacket and blue jeans his character is set loose.

As relevant and iconic today as ever, Rebel Without A Cause is the movie Dean’s fans associate with him the most and it’s the reason why we brought it today as a way to say “Happy 80th Birthday JimmY!”

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