When people think of James Dean, they probably think first of the troubled teen from Rebel Without a Cause: nervous, volatile, soulful, a kid lost in a world that does not understand him. Made between his only other starring roles, in East of Eden and Giant, Rebel sums up the jangly, alienated image of Dean, but also happens to be one of the key films of the 1950s. Director Nicholas Ray takes a strikingly sympathetic look at the teenagers standing outside the white-picket-fence '50s dream of America: juvenile delinquent (that's what they called them then) Jim Stark (Dean), fast girl Judy (Natalie Wood), lost boy Plato (Sal Mineo), slick hot-rodder Buzz (Corey Allen). At the time, it was unusual for a movie to endorse the point of view of teenagers, but Ray and screenwriter Stewart Stern captured the youthful angst that was erupting at the same time in rock & roll. Dean is heartbreaking, following the method acting style of Marlon Brando but staking out a nakedly emotional honesty of his own. Going too fast, in every way, he was killed in a car crash on September 30, 1955, a month before Rebel opened. He was no longer an actor, but an icon, and Rebel is a lasting monument. --Robert Horton
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