Released 1955 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Nicholas Ray
Stars - James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo
A day in the life of three troubled teenagers: Jim Stark (Dean), Judy (Wood), and John “Plato” Crawford (Mineo).
It’s definitely a teenager movie about teenagers having teenager problems. The first time I saw it, I was barely out of my teenage years myself (I may have still been in them), so it really spoke to me. Seeing it as an adult, I have to say that much of it feels like a lot of unnecessary drama.
I found myself bristling at the idea that Jim had so many problems because his dad was emasculated by his mom (Oh the humanity, he wore a frilly apron!). That’s some straight-up 1950s mentality, and I’m definitely not a 1950s woman.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the soundtrack, but when am I ever when it comes to 50s films?
As annoying as all the teenaged drama was, it seemed like the writers understood what it’s like to be a teenager. So many things rang true. For example, John giving himself the nickname “Plato,” exactly the kind of pretentious thing I would’ve done at that age. Or Jim vehemently insisting that he didn’t want to grow up to be like his father. Or this exchange between bully Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) and Jim right before the “chickie run”:
Buzz: You know something? I like you.
Jim: Why do we do this?
Buzz: You’ve gotta do something. Don’t you?
Honestly genius. All the aimlessness, confusion, and anger of the teenaged years wrapped up in three short sentences. I also really loved the scene where Jim, Judy, and Plato were “playing house” in the abandoned mansion. It seemed exactly like the kind of exchange a group of three friends messing around would have.
Great performances from Dean, Mineo, and Jim Backus (as Jim’s dad Frank).
Well, I hope everyone gets a chance to see this at an age where it’s applicable. I don’t think it packs quite the same punch once you’re an adult. It’s not so much that you lose the ability to relate. It’s more that, as ineffectual as all the adult characters are, you start to see that they have a point: the feelings that Jim and Judy experience are normal, mundane even, and given a few years, they’ll grow out of it. None of it is as big or as important as they think it is. (Plato, on the other hand, has serious mental health issues. Poor kid.)
Performances are, by and large, pretty good. I liked the dialogue. However, the amount of action/drama that could be packed into one night bordered on the absurd. As a film that addresses the problems of teenagers, I think it’s rather brilliant. However, because of that, it has limited appeal, in my opinion. At the end of the day, it’s definitely a “see it at least once in your life” film.
I give it 3.75 stars.