Released just after James Dean’s untimely death, Rebel Without A Cause is his finest film, hardly surprisingly in that Ray was one of the great ’50s directors. The story, much imitated since, might sound like nothing much – unsettled adolescent from good home can’t keep himself out of trouble, and gets involved with bad sorts until tragedy takes over – but what makes the film so powerful is both the sympathy it extends towards all the characters (including the seemingly callous parents) and the precise expressionism of Ray’s direction. His use of light, space and motion is continually at the service of the characters’ emotions, while the trio that Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo form as a refuge from society is explicitly depicted as an ‘alternative family’. Still the best of the youth movies.
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