Here’s a sweet, short documentary clip capturing the essence of Hollywood in its (black & white) heyday.
Thor ensures I don’t spend the entire day hunched over my computer, writing.
Here’s a detailed review of this classic, a fave of some of my Mike Montego characters, courtesy of Hal Erickson.
This landmark juvenile-delinquent drama scrupulously follows the classic theatrical disciplines, telling all within a 24-hour period. Teenager Jimmy Stark (James Dean) can’t help but get into trouble, a problem that has forced his appearance-conscious parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran) to move from one town to another. The film’s tormented central characters are all introduced during a single night-court session, presided over by well-meaning social worker Ray (Edward Platt). Jimmy, arrested on a drunk-and-disorderly charge, screams “You’re tearing me apart!” as his blind-sided parents bicker with one another over how best to handle the situation.
Judy (Natalie Wood) is basically a good kid but behaves wildly out of frustration over her inability to communicate with her deliberately distant father (William Hopper). (The incestuous subtext of this relationship is discreetly handled, but the audience knows what’s going on in the minds of Judy and her dad at all times.) And Plato (Sal Mineo), who is so sensitive that he threatens to break apart like porcelain, has taken to killing puppies as a desperate bid for attention from his wealthy, always absent parents.
The next morning, Jimmy tries to start clean at a new high school, only to run afoul of local gang leader Buzz (Corey Allen), who happens to be Judy’s boyfriend. Anxious to fit in, Jimmy agrees to settle his differences with a nocturnal “Chickie Run”: he and Buzz are to hop into separate stolen cars, then race toward the edge of a cliff; whoever jumps out of the car first is the “chickie.” When asked if he’s done this sort of thing before, Jimmy lies, “That’s all I ever do.” This wins him the undying devotion of fellow misfit Plato.
At the appointed hour, the Chickie Run takes place, inaugurated by a wave of the arms from Judy. The cars roar toward the cliff; Jimmy is able to jump clear, but Buzz, trapped in the driver’s set when his coat gets caught on the door handle, plummets to his death. In the convoluted logic of Buzz’ gang, Jimmy is held responsible for the boy’s death. For the rest of the evening, he is mercilessly tormented by Buzz’ pals, even at his own doorstep. After unsuccessfully trying to sort things out with his weak-willed father, Jimmy runs off into the night. He links up with fellow “lost souls” Judy and Plato, hiding out in an abandoned palatial home and enacting the roles of father, mother, and son.
For the first time, these three have found kindred spirits — but the adults and kids who have made their lives miserable haven’t given up yet, leading to tragedy. Out of the bleakness of the finale comes a ray of hope that, at last, Jimmy will be truly understood.
Rebel without a Cause began as a case history, written in 1944 by Dr. Robert Lindner. Originally intended as a vehicle for Marlon Brando, the property was shelved until Brando‘s The Wild One (1953) opened floodgates for films about crazy mixed-up teens. Director Nicholas Ray, then working on a similar project, was brought in to helm the film version. His star was James Dean, fresh from Warners’ East of Eden. Ray‘s low budget dictated that the new film be lensed in black-and-white, but when East of Eden really took off at the box office, the existing footage was scrapped and reshot in color.
This was great, so far as Ray was concerned, inasmuch as he had a predilection for symbolic color schemes. James Dean‘s hot red jacket, for example, indicated rebellion, while his very blue blue jeans created a near luminescent effect (Ray had previously used the same vivid color combination on Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar). As part of an overall bid for authenticity, real-life gang member Frank Mazzola was hired as technical advisor for the fight scenes. To extract as natural a performance as possible from Dean, Ray redesigned the Stark family’s living room set to resemble Ray‘s own home, where Dean did most of his rehearsing. Speaking of interior sets, the mansion where the three troubled teens hide out had previously been seen as the home of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
Of the reams of on-set trivia concerning Rebel, one of the more amusing tidbits involves Dean‘s quickie in-joke impression of cartoon character Mr. Magoo — whose voice was, of course, supplied by Jim Backus, who played Jimmy’s father. Viewing the rushes of this improvisation, a clueless Warner Bros. executive took Dean to task, saying in effect that if he must imitate an animated character, why not Warners’ own Bugs Bunny?
Released right after James Dean‘s untimely death, Rebel without a Cause netted an enormous profit. The film almost seems like a eulogy when seen today, since so many of its cast members — James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Nick Adams — died young.
My life-long love of music was fueled by the fact that, growing up in Hollywood, I was constantly exposed to some amazing talent.
Like Nino Tempo.
I went to Hollywood High with Nino, who originally hailed from New York. He and his older sister, April Stevens (their birth name, by the way, was Lo Tiempo), went on to become one of the hottest acts in the early ’60s.
Signed as a duo with Atco Records, they had a string of Billboard hits and earned a Grammy Award as “best rock & roll record of the year” for the single “Deep Purple”. “Deep Purple” was originally released as a “B-side” by legendary producer Ahmet Ertegun, who was dubious of Tempo’s belief that it would be a hit, calling it “the most embarrassing thing” the duo had ever recorded. When the “A-side” song, “Paradise”, flopped, Ertegun relented, and the song achieved notability as the longest running hit B-side, a title it carried for 21 years. The version I’ve posted above is from an American Bandstand broadcast of the era.
Music journalist Richie Unterberger has described the later song “All Strung Out” as Nino Tempo & April Stevens’ “greatest triumph”, declaring it “one of the greatest Phil Spector-inspired productions of all time”. For years following their charting singles, the duo continued recording, but failed to achieve continued sales success.
However in March 1973 they scored a #5 hit in the Netherlands with “Love Story” on A & M Records, two years after Andy Williams took that same song to #13 in the Dutch Top 40.
Watching and listening to this old clip from the most popular music program of the era brings back a flood of memories.
I haven’t been able to ascertain what they’re up to these days — or even if they’re still with us. I do know that they were inducted into the city of Buffalo’s Musical Hall of Fame in 1999. And that in November, 2007, Nino performed Amazon Moon (formerly Bahia Manhattan, from his Nino album) at Carnegie Hall at the request of the great Mike Stoller, who labeled Nino’s version of that song one of his all-time favorites. On an evening hosted by Rob Reiner, designed to pay tribute to Stoller and his songwriting partner, Jerry Leiber, Nino was joined on stage by the likes of Natalie Cole, Ben E. King, Sally Kellerman and the late Marvin Hamlisch.
Not bad for a kid from Hollywood High.
When someone talks about “West Coast jazz” or “cool jazz,” they’re almost invariably referring to a style performed by jazz musicians in California (and primarily in Los Angeles) in the ’50s and early ’60s. As opposed to the hard-bop sound dominant on the East Coast during that time, the West Coast sound was a bit mellower and more lyrical, with blended harmonies and — broadly speaking — more interest in composition and arrangement than improvisation.
So starts a cool bit on National Public Radio’s website — an article called West Coast Cool: the Jazz Sound of ’50s California.
Check it out!