Tag Archives: Rebel Without a Cause

Natalie Wood

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Natalie Wood was born on July 20, 1938, in San Francisco, California, as Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko. Her parents were Russian-born émigrés, of Ukrainian and Russian descent, who spoke barely comprehensible English; they changed the family name to Gurdin after becoming US citizens. When she was just four years old, Natalie appeared in her first film, Happy Land (1943). A production company had come to Santa Rosa, California, where the Gurdins were living and Natalie won a bit part of a crying little girl who had just dropped her ice cream cone. With stars in her eyes for her daughter, Mrs. Gurdin packed the family and moved south to Los Angeles in the hopes that more films would come her daughter’s way. Unfortunately they did not, at least not at first, and the family continued to scrape by much as they had done in Santa Rosa. In 1946 Natalie tested for a role in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946). She was only seven at the time, and flunked the screen test. Natalie’s mother convinced the studio heads to give her another test, and this time she was convincing enough that they gave Natalie the role.

Miracle

In 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street (1947), she won the hearts of movie patrons around the country as Susan Walker in a film that is considered a Christmas classic to this day.

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Natalie stayed very busy as a child actress, appearing in no less than 18 films in the late 1940s and early 1950s. When she was 16 Natalie appeared in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) with James DeanSal Mineo and Dennis Hopper. She played Judy, a rebellious high school student who was more concerned with hanging out with the wrong crowd than being a sweet teenager like her contemporaries. The result was her first Academy Award nomination and a defining moment in her development as an adult actress. She appeared in Splendor in the Grass (1961), West Side Story (1961), Gypsy(1962), and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963).

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While Natalie was reported to be unhappy making “West Side Story,” the film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. In short, it was a smash hit.

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Although she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award in that one, she did receive nominations for her roles in “Splendor in the Grass” and “Love with the Proper Stranger.” After This Property Is Condemned (1966) in 1966, Natalie stayed away from Hollywood for three years to have time for herself and to consider where she was going. When she did return, her star quality had not diminished, as evidenced by her playing Carol Sanders in the hit Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice(1969). From that point on Natalie didn’t work as much. She made a few television appearances, but nothing of substance with the exception of the TV mini-series From Here to Eternity (1979).

Brainstorm
After making The Last Married Couple in America (1980), Natalie began work on Brainstorm (1983) in the fall of 1981 with Christopher Walken. She did not live to see it released. On November 29, 1981, she was sailing on the yacht she shared with her husband, Robert Wagner, and their friend Walken, when she fell in the ocean while trying to board the dinghy tied up alongside the yacht and drowned. She was 43 years old. Natalie had made 56 films for TV and the silver screen. “Brainstorm” was finally released in 1983.

Rebel Without a Cause

 

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Here’s a detailed review of this classic, a fave of some of my Mike Montego characters, courtesy of Hal Erickson.

(http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/40604/Rebel-Without-a-Cause/trailers)

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.

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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.

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Jemes Dean roughs up his father, Jim Backus – Mr. Magoo goes down for the count

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.