Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson, Dennis Hopper, Edward Platt
Jim Stark is from a middle class family who doesn't know how to love him. They move him from town to town to keep him out of trouble, and in particular, his father is about as far as can be from the "be a man" role model. When he comes to this new town, Jim finally begins to find the affection he's been searching for, albeit in unusual places: Plato, a ruffian kid, Judy, a love-starved daughter and bully's girlfriend, and Ray, a juvenile delinquent detective.
Unfortunately, even though he makes a go at starting a-new, other kids in the new town are making it anything but easy-- forcing him to knife fight, play chicken, race stolen cars, and the like. When Plato's deeply disturbed antics take center-stage in a shoot-out with police, Jim does what he can to defend his first and only friends.
James Dean is Jim, and Dean is a Brando-esque screen presence. The mumbles, the squint, and the nonchalant command of the screen-- he is pretty electric in this film. Interestingly enough, Brando actually screen-tested and turned down this role, so the similarity in Dean's acting style for this film to Brando is not-so-surprising. Natalie Wood-- how DOES this girl keep landing roles across these bo-hunks?? William Beatty AND James Dean?? Frankly, I'm finding her to be a bit under-whelming as an actress.
The plot of this film is so bizarre that I am truly baffled at its enormity of "classic" respect. Granted, it's all about James Dean, isn't it? I mean... I had a poster of him on my wall from this film (never even having seen it) for the majority of my junior year of college.
Anyway, like I was saying... BIZARRE plot. Lots of unnecessary characters and subplots in this film-- lots of details that confuse and are never elaborated on. Many things mentioned but never explained. Who is this woman caring for Plato-- and why does she keep re-appearing in such a random, unsupported fashion? No one really got too upset about Buzz's death, did they? And is the subplot of Judy's father really need to be there? All it did was open up doors of confusion-- is she sexually attracted to her own father?
Mostly, I just tried to "let go" with this film. Suspend disbelief, and try not to be so hung up on the odd turns this film took me down. Obviously this film is loved for its actor performances and certainly not for its storyline, so I'll try to appreciate it in the same light.