Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/19/00
Rebel Without a
1955 (1999) - Warner Bros.
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
111 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.55:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:19, at the
start of chapter 20), Snapper case packaging, "behind-the-scenes"
documentary Rediscovering a Rebel,
3 Behind the Cameras
documentaries, production notes, cast and crew filmographies, 3
theatrical trailers (for Rebel Without a
Cause, East of Eden
and Giant), film-themed menu
screens with sound, scene access (35 chapters), languages: English
(DD 5.1) and French (DD mono), subtitles: English and French, Closed
American Beauty dug its
satirical claws into the American suburbs, Rebel
Without a Cause showed the country that all is not
necessarily well within the nuclear family. It proved to moviegoers
of the 1950s that the rosy portraits of the close-knit American
family they were force fed on television were indeed different from
their actual lives. Rebel Without a Cause
created an entirely different, more accurate movie about the
American teen experience for viewers, regardless of age.
At the start of the movie, we're introduced to all the principle
characters at the city police department. Jim (James Dean) is
brought in after being picked up on the streets. He is drunk, and as
he talks with one of the officers, it becomes obvious that he is
unhappy with his life and his constantly bickering parents. Judy
(Natalie Wood), a frequent runaway, is being questioned while one of
the cops calls her parents to come pick her up. The police are also
questioning Plato (Sal Mineo, in his screen debut). Nervous and shy,
he sits hunched over in a chair explaining why he shot a litter of
puppies, as his maid comforts him in the absence of his mother.
Jim again runs into Judy the next morning and is coyly brushed off
by her as she waits for "the kids," her clique of super
cool friends. They are quick to dismiss Jim and on a field trip
later in the day, Jim tangles horns with Buzz, the leader of the
group. Their fight picks up later on that evening and as it comes to
its disastrous end, Judy is torn between her allegiance to her
friends and her burgeoning affection for Jim.
As the movie progresses, Jim's relationship with both Judy and
Plato develops into a second family. They start to rely on each
other for the love and support they're each not getting at home. In
a very subtle way, their complete acceptance of one another is
harrowing. All of the restraints that are put on them by their
family and peers completely disappear until they are allowed to feel
genuine appreciation for each other. It is this unconditional
acceptance for each other that makes the movie's dramatic conclusion
all the more tragic.
Director Nicholas Ray created a powerful movie and pulled some
amazing performances out of the lead cast. During the more dramatic
parts of the movie, it takes on the look and feel of a
well-rehearsed stage play, and the cast completely disappears within
their characters. Jim Backus is sweet and endearing as Jim's caring
father, who is too weak to see that his wife walks all over him.
Wood and Mineo each received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for
their heartbreaking performances and Dean's turn as an anguished
teen has become a watermark by which to judge other actors in
The sparkling new anamorphic transfer created for the DVD release
is absolutely stunning. Amazingly, the print that was used is very
clean and nearly spot free. There are a few instances of flecks and
scratches, but considering the age of the movie, it's to be
expected. All the bright tints of the original Warner-color release
are rendered excellently and flesh tones are natural and smooth. For
all of the movies darker night shots, the black levels are solid and
almost entirely without grain. After seeing Rebel
Without a Cause in its original, glorious Cinemascope
2.55:1 ratio, you'll never want to see a dreaded pan and scan copy
again. You're missing a lot if you're not seeing it this way.
The new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also good. Though it's more
oriented toward the front speakers, Leonard Rosenman's gorgeous
musical score is well maintained and has a nice bass level. There is
also a nice balance between the movie's dialogue and musical score.
Never once did I strain to hear what was being said on screen.
Occasionally, the new sound mix creates a bit of an echo in some of
the dialogue passages, but this is a rare occurrence.
Warner includes a small, but welcome, set of extras on the disc.
Rediscovering a Rebel, a 10
minute documentary on the making of the film, features a few scenes
that were cut out of the theatrical version. The scenes are nice,
but the voice-over commentary of the documentary drowns out any of
the audio present in the scenes. It would have been nice to have
these as a separate extra, rather than being incorporated into the
featurette. There's also some screen tests of James Dean with some
of the other cast members, as well as shots of the original,
discarded black and white footage of the film. The first three days
of the shoot were done this way, before Warner decided (wisely, mind
you) to shell out a few more bucks and shoot the film in color.
The Behind the Cameras
documentaries (presumably taken from a television program) are pure
1950s fluff. At times, they look as staged and scripted as the movie
itself. Natalie Wood and Jim Backus answer a few questions like
they're reading their answers off of cue cards. James Dean's
interview, however, is more than slightly eerie. He concludes the
minute or two session with the host by warning viewers to drive
safely. Three trailers (East of Eden,
Rebel Without a Cause and
Giant) round out the major
features of the disc. The trailers for the two former films are
enhanced for widescreen televisions and presented in their original
Cinemascope ratio of 2.55:1, while the latter is full frame. Some
very brief production notes and filmographies are also included.
Rebel Without a Cause is a
perfect melodrama, the likes of which is rarely seen outside of
European cinema today. It's an American classic, and Warner has
treated it as such. The effort they put into making this disc is
evident from the moment we see their logo. This movie has never
looked better and this DVD is a welcome addition to any film
enthusiast's home library.