A Year: Day to Day Men: 27th of October

Shirt of Stars

October 27, 1955 was the release date of the film “Rebel Without a Cause”.

“Rebel Without a Cause” is a 1955 American drama film, filmed during the Eisenhower years in the United States, and directed by Nicholas Ray, who became an important influence on the French New Wave in film. The film was an attempt to explore the differences and conflicts between the generations, and the emotional lives of middle-class teenagers.

Although the rights to author Robert Lindner’s book “Rebel Without a Cause’ were acquired, an entirely new script by Irving Shulman and Stewart Stern was used for the film. The film starred James Dean in his last role as the lead character Jim Stark; Natalie Wood as Judy; Sal Mineo as John “Plato” Crawford; and Jim Backus and Ann Doran as Jim Stark’s parents.

“Rebel Without a Cause” was one of James Dean’s three major films which included the 1955 “East of Eden”, for which he was nominated for Best Actor; and the 1956 released “Giant”, for which he was nominated posthumously for Best Actor. “Rebel Without a Cause” was the last film James Dean starred in before his early death in a car crash. Just before his death, his agent Jane Deacy had negotiated a six-year, nine film deal with the Warner Brothers Studio.

The film was in production from March 28 to May 25 in 1955. Originally considered just a B-movie, the initially filming was in black and white film stock. When the studio recognized the star significance of Jame Dean, filming was switched to color, with many scenes being reshot. It was shot in the widescreen CinemaScope format, a recent introduction to film making.

“Rebel Without a Cause”, known as an epochal story of a new non-conforming generation in the 1950s, was also a gay-positive cinema landmark. It was filmed in an era when homosexuality was still a crime in many parts of America; the Motion Picture Production Code censors of the era had a long list of forbidden topics, irrespective of the manner in which they were treated. In the spring of 1955, a Production Code memo was sent to producer Jack Warner with a reminder that it was vital that there be no inference of a questionable relationship between the characters of Plato and Jim.

“Rebel Without a Cause” is considered as the first in mainstream films to depict gay desire. James Dean’s character Jim becomes both friend and fascination to Sal Mineo’s Plato, a lonely younger kid who is obviously gay. Most of the references, due to the era, are non-verbal: the pin-up photo of Alan Ladd in Plato’s school locker, the looks of adoration Plato gives Jim, and late in the film a coded declaration of love from Plato to Jim. The film marks a turning point in film’s and society’s attitude from one of hostility to tolerance and support of gay life.

“Rebel Without a Cause” was nominated for three Academy Awards: Sal Mineo for Best Supporting Actor; Natalie Wood for Best Supporting Actress; and Nicholas Ray for Best Writing of a Motion Picture Story. It was entered into the National film Registry in 1990. As a side note, the film upon its release was banned in New Zealand out of fears it would incite teenage delinquency (released one year later with scenes cut out).

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