"With an Academy Award winning script by Stewart Stern (and Awards for the two key support performances), Rebel Without A Cause (1955) became a classic even in its day. This fine transfer - in its original aspect ratio - with some newly restored elements, retains the authentic 1950s mood but provides optimum sound, and is an essential item in any serious home film library. The film's dramatic content is universal and timeless: the generation gap. But as usual, it's not just what it is, but how.
Nicholas Ray began shooting the film in black and white, but within three days, the studio recognised it had an important film on its hands and threw more resources behind it, so it could be made in colour. The footage in the can was re-shot.
This and many other pieces of information emerge in a series of three little on location features made at the time, which have the added piquancy of 'the way we were' nostalgia of Hollywood - and Warner Bros in particular - at the time. These vignettes are hosted by actor Gig Young acting as the on-set reporter, chatting (very briefly and inconsequentially) with the filmmakers and some of the stars.
Natalie Wood has a few words to say over lunch on the set, but James Dean is already making Giant when he spends a few minutes between scenes (and still wearing his Giant wardrobe) with Young.
These clips are a bit stagey and are filled out with scenes from the film, looking more like propaganda than documentary. But they are fascinating nonethless, mostly for their sense of the era and the innocent enthusiasm of Hollywood. Most impressive of all, Gig Young goes really behind the scenes to explore the importance of writers to the studio, and has a chat about how they work. (Slave.)
In another short doco, Rediscovering a Rebel (9:30 mins) we get to see an early and unused shot of Dean wearing glasses; it looked too 'bookish' and they were never seen again.
It also shows the alternate ending, which doesn't change dramatically but in style. This is the sort of movie - a classic you could only ever see on a tv set (in questionable viewing quality and without the extras) - that should trigger you to get a DVD player.
Andrew L. Urban
Review published: 17/8/00