Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

The Man with the Golden Arm
A fitting subtitle for this movie could be “Trainspotting in 1955”.

In the Danish edition of the List that I follow two 1955 movies are missing.  Whether they were removed to make room for the special Danish entries or additions from the grand 10th edition revision I have not yet worked out, but suffice to say that they were not deemed worthy for the edition I hold. I have arrived at the first of these, “The Man with the Golden Arm” (the other is “Oklahoma!”).

The obvious first question is if there is a reason this should be a leftover movie. Well, both yes and no (ambiguous is my middle name…), this movie has strengths and qualities that warrant the inclusion, but it is also a terribly difficult movie to watch and not something I would like to see again.

The thing about “The Man with the Golden Arm” is that it is a substance abuse movie and they are by definition difficult. I am not a fan of those and I do think it takes a measure of masochism to enjoy them that I do not possess. That is not to say that they have no value, not at all. I suppose they are important and that people should know of the problems with substance abuse, but they feel like torment to me and I take little pleasure in them.

This time the substance in question is heroin, or something very similar (for some reason the drug is never named, but the description fits all too well on heroin) and I believe that is a first. That makes “The Man with the Golden Arm” to heroin what “Lost Weekend” was to alcohol.

Frank Sinatra (yes, the one and only) is Frankie “Dealer” Machine. At the opening of the movie he is returning from a rehab prison where he has been cured of heroin addiction and learned to be a drummer. Things are looking up for Frankie who is ready for a fresh start on life.

However everybody and their mother is hell bent on sabotaging things for Frankie and drag him into the gutter. With friends like these Frankie need no enemies. There are almost too many to list.

His friend Sparrow (Arnold Stang) is a hustler who is quick to get him in trouble for wearing a stolen suit. Zero Schwiefka (Robert Strauss) runs a gambling racket and want his best dealer, Frankie, back on the job. “Nifty Louie” is a heroin dealer constantly tempting Frankie with a fix and worst of all is Frankie’s wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker).

Zosh is almost (but probably) psychotic in her need to keep Frankie on a leash. She is faking paralysis, for which Frankie married her out of guilt for having caused it, in order to keep him around and she is strongly opposed to him becoming a drummer. Instead she want him back dealing cards so he can take care of her and will not go anywhere. She is insanely jealous and see herself victimized in all things with no sympathy left for Frankie. Truly a one-way marriage.

Faced with pressure from all sides Frankie eventually crumples. He is back dealing cards and taking drugs and when he finally gets a drum audition he is in no shape to perform.

It is a painful deroute. The pressure Frankie is under is immense and unfair so there is some sympathy for his desperation. Still, we know going back on drugs is the wrong solution and watching him succumb is just terrible. Frankie has one person willing to support him, Molly (Kim Novak), an old flame, but when he finally gives in it becomes too much for her and she walks out on him. That is the absolute low point of the movie.

There is redemption in the end though. Frankie seeks help from Molly and together they face up to the addiction. Frankie is locked up in a room taking a cold turkey in a scene that was essentially copied in “Trainspotting”. In addition we get a little murder mystery that propels the resolution, and freed of all ties Frankie makes the obvious decision to start all over in a new place with new people, something he should have done to begin with.

It was so hard watching this one that I had to chop it up in small pieces to get through it and still there were times when I just did not feel like watching anymore. Drug addiction is just such a horrible theme and this movie goes a long way to show how powerless its victims are in fighting it. We now Frankie has to get knocked down before the resolution and that premise almost kills the movie. I would have supposed a 1955 movie would have been gentler with its audience, but Preminger pulls no punches. Frankie (and us, the audience) gets it right in the face every time.

It is odd to watch Frank Sinatra as a junkie. There is no singing or dancing, only misery and desperation and it is true reminder that Sinatra was more than a crooner, that he was in fact a talented actor. He is likable and that is part of the frustration. Why cannot he see that all these so-called friends will him no good?

The jazzy Bernstein score is highlighted as an asset of the movie. That is possible. I almost did not hear it. That may be a good thing, blending in so seamlessly with the movie that it supports it, but does not stand out. I feel a bit cheated though. I really like jazz.

A well-done drug addiction movie featuring Frank Sinatra is probably a must-see. For me it is a been there – done that – don’t want to go back.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Lola Montes (The Sin of Lola Montes) (1955)

Lola Montès
As far as I can see ”Lola Montès” is the last film on the list by Max Ophuls. I cannot say that I am entirely sad to see that chapter close. Max Ophuls and I have had a mixed and difficult relationship. Technically his work is never less than brilliant, but on content they always fail to click with me. His movies may trigger emotions in me, but then usually negative ones, such as anger, exasperation or incredulousness, but mostly they just leave me cold. Maybe it is a guy thing, maybe an age thing or maybe I just rate the story far above technical prowess and Ophuls simply fails to deliver on that most important account.

Ophuls goes out with a bang. “Lola Montès” is everything his past films have been, only on a far grander scale. Cinemascope in color, huge sets, crowds of actors, elaborate cinematography, no expenses was spared here. This is rumored to be the most expensive production to be made in Europe at its time and I believe it. It is also rumored to have ruined the production company and it never recovered the costs of its making, likely because it was chopped to pieces on release.

Nevertheless watching it in its full glory is a marvelous experience and if you have the opportunity throw it up on a big screen, it deserves that. “Lola Montès” is an example that the insistence on directorial extravaganza pays off for the viewer if not the production company. The DVD came with a lengthy featurette swooning over the technical achievements of the movie and I tend to agree with that presentation. Technically this is a masterpiece.

However, and this is a big however, the story the movie tells is problematic, at least for me. I have no doubt that out there there are lots of people loving the story and entirely buying into it, but unfortunately I am not among those. I am simply not interested.

Lola Montès was a real character in the first half of the nineteenth century. She was a dancer who won fame, not for her dancing skills, but for her ways with men, how she could insinuate herself into positions of power through seduction and was able to influence politics, most notably trigger a liberal revolution in Bavaria. Eventually she fled Europe, performed for a while in The States and ended up touring Australia causing quite a stir with revealing dances in the gold mining district.

I would say that is a story worth telling. However this movie is an exposition of the scandals Lola Montès caused literally for the public to gawk at. It is essentially the gossip magazines version of the story, full of juicy details, but failing to tell anything about the person itself and then apparently going back on us to tell us, the audience, that we are just wanting a circus show so we can devour the woman with no concern for her.

Maybe the message of the movie is that we should feel bad with ourselves, or grateful that this woman has provided us with all this juicy gossip, but here is the thing; I was never interested in all that gossip. Lola could screw the entire European nobility for all I care. Good for her. It is just not interesting. What I would be interested in learning is her political clout and achievements, but they are either left out or turned upside down. She is no longer instigating a liberal revolution, but causing a conservative revolt against her person. Instead of a reformator she is a succubus, riding the tide until she runs out of friends.

Ophuls builds the story around a circus presentation of her life. Obviously this is a literal allegory of how the public is relishing in her scandals and value her for that entertainment and see it as their right to gawk on her. Unfortunately it just does not work. It looks hopelessly artificial and while on the one hand this is supposed to be a symbolic image, it is also presented as her real fate and that just clashes badly. Either it needs to be so stylized that we see it as symbolism or it must be realistic enough that we buy it and presenting the life of a scandalous dancer as a circus act isn’t that.

It seems obvious that this movie is catered to those who relish the scandals and escapades of the rich and famous and for those there is plenty to bite in. Ophuls loves the big dresses and extravagant sets and this is nowhere more obvious than here. I suspect this just adds to the enjoyment of said audience. I am therefore a bit surprised to see Ophuls turn on his home crowd, telling them that they are just leeches. He shows sympathy for the woman behind the scandals, but never enough so that he shows us any other side of her. Lola Montès is just a tired woman doing what she does best to find… I have no idea. Love?

This is a movie that probably works well for the fans of Ophuls, but it tells the wrong story for me. I would like to say that I was looking for that story, but the truth is that I lost interest in the story quite early and instead resigned to enjoy the scenery.

And the scenery is absolutely something to behold. It is a romantic view of central Europe and it all looks so inviting that I wish I could go there and spend some time and the great thing is that you can find such places. Neuschwanstein is Ludvig of Bavaria’s dream castle, there are places in Provence and Italy that looks like those of the movie and the Alps are gorgeous. Hmmm… maybe I should go there again next summer.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

”Oh no, we are back to those oldies again”.

My initial reaction to “The Night of the Hunter” was not exactly positive. I do not mind old movies, but I have become so accustomed to the technical quality of movies of the mid-fifties that this movies felt like two steps backwards. Time for some good ol’ B&W in boxy 4x3 format and a depression age setting.

Ah, was I fooled.

This apparent retreat to old school noir and expressionistic shadows was in reality a tour de force of chill and menace, a horror story effective even today and a bible belt critique I did not expect from an American movie of 1955.

In short, this is one of the best movies I have seen from this particular year.

Charles Laughton was a spectacular actor who had specialized in small, ugly men and I remember him mostly for “Mutiny on the Bounty”. I did not know he had one go at directing as well. Unfortunately “The Night of the Hunter” did not hit it at the box office so he never directed a second movie and that is a shame. I loved his style, there is so much potential here.

In fact he hit it on many levels and I suspect this review will simply be an accounting of the genius of this movie.

First off there is the chill factor. The psychotic Harry Powell (Harry Mitchum) is this totally menacing character that threatens the lives of Pearl and John (Sally Jane Bruce and Billy Chapin) two children rendered fatherless and soon also motherless. Their isolation is highlighted by the fact that Harry is able to convince everybody else that he is a good guy. Only John knows that this is not so and Harry is like a bad dream, always lurking on the horizon. This chill is in fact so effective that “The Night of the Hunter” successfully enters the horror film genre. Harry is the guy you do not want to see when you look out the window.

The second stroke of genius is the casting. Whoever got the idea that Robert Mitchum should be the menacing Harry Powell made the pick of a life time. He is just awesome in this role. Mitchum can make Powell friendly and cozy, even trustworthy and in a heartbeat the most terrifying man you have ever known. It is this transition that makes him so spectacular. If you have only known him from his roles as cynical hero you owe yourself to see him in this one. Being a psychopath was Robert Mitchums true calling. I suppose Laughton knew exactly how to create a real badass.

Lillian Gish was another such brilliant casting. You remember Lillian Gish? She was one of the earliest female stars in D.W. Griffith movies, but later entirely disappeared from movies. In “The Night of the Hunter” she shows us she never lost the hang of it. It was so wonderful to have her back and I could not help look at her face and posture and compare her to the young actress forty years earlier and think how elusive time is. It was totally her.

Shelley Winters was another good pick. She is perfect as the wifey widow in the Bible belt. Tough and hardy but also gullible for a con man like Harry Powell.

I also love the setup that Powell is a psycho preacher who believes he does God’s bidding when he goes around killing women. His preachy manner totally works on people in these villages. He is a holy man, preaching the word of God and therefore on this basis a good and trustworthy character. These villagers are completely taken by this guy as they are conditioned to and never doubt him. It is pretty clear that Laughton was not fond of preachers and with the Harry Powell character he is giving them a punch in the stomach.

He goes a lot further than that though. He sets up the two characters of Powell and Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) as opposing forces of evil and good. Powell says the right things, but his actions are evil. Cooper on the other hand does the right things, but refrain from being dogmatic. It is as if saying the wrapping is deceiving, if is your actions and what is in your heart that matters. Cooper sees through the appearance of Powell and is unimpressed with the bulllshit, which is a lot more than you can say about the villagers. By believing this guy they were complicit in his crimes and the fury they are thrown into when he is finally exposed is them washing hands. Between the lines they are crying, it was not our fault, he deceived us. But it was their own righteousness that blinded them.

A last thing I will mention is the dreaminess of the voyage the children go through. When the viewpoint is moved to the children we see the world in their eye height. There is something symbolic of that journey they take and it is powerful to watch.

On the whole I enjoyed this movie very much. That it was overlooked in its time is quite amazing and I am still looking for a reason. This should have been a hit.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard) (1955)

Nat og tåge
It is well known that the Second World War is a very frequent theme in the List and that there are quite a few Holocaust movies among them. They are not the ones I am looking forward to. Movies and documentaries on the Holocaust are invariably hard to watch and always leaves me drained. That is not to say that they should not be there, on the contrary they are terribly important, but I am not enjoying them.

Alain Resnais “Nuit et brouillard” is no exception. This was one of the first if not the first documentary on the Holocaust, made ten years after the end of the war. It is not really a documentary per se, but impressions, questions and glimpses of a reality so horrible that we cannot fully grasp it. There is no explanation on Holocaust, no numbers (or only vague hints at them) or chronology. Just a lot of images from the camps and the trains taking people to them, cross-clipped with 55 footage of the deserted, ruined remains of these places of utmost evil. It is as if Resnais himself is in shock and not himself sure where to start and where to finish, but burning with a need to show all the ugliness that was the KZ and extermination camps.

Thus bombarded I feel overwhelmed and horrified. Luckily it is only 30 minutes long, but that half hour is densely packed. Yet “Nuit et brouillard” suffer from a very common problem. The sheer scale of the nightmare is so staggering that we do not fully grasp it and so it keeps us at a distance, like watching a machine of cold components. Now and then there is a face so common and real, but placed on a half dead woman slung over the shoulder of a fellow inmate, or a row of children walking to their death that suddenly the nightmare hits us. Modern retellings of the Holocaust has correctly discerned that we cannot cope with the scale and instead tell the personal stories of the individuals, creating real people and not just cadavers in rags and that brings the story home.

My wife is Jewish and we went a decade ago to visit Theresienstadt where her great-grandparents perished. This is by no means the worst of the places, in fact it was used in Nazi propaganda as a showcase camp, but that does not alleviate the horrors I saw there. The bunks they slept in, the shoes left by dead children or their drawings now on display at the holocaust museum in Prague. My five year old son would have been the target of holocaust had we lived back then. This is what I think of when I watch a movie like “Nuit et brouillard”.

There is as I mentioned no attempt at explanation in this movie, only incredulity and questions. Who is to blame? Everybody washes their hands and remove themselves and that makes Resnais angry. His is a tone of vengeance and justice. A monstrous crime has been committed, who are the guilty? And are we done prosecuting them? But most of all his clear intent is to make sure we do not forget. The ruins today (in 55) are already decaying as if time will erase the crimes committed and he seems affronted with this wish to forget and forces our eyes open.

The question “why” is hardly touched upon. Why these people? Why must they die? And how can a nation state and the people in it commit atrocities on such an industrial scale? Resnais is not this far in his contemplation, that is for later generations, but these are the questions I ask when I watch this and they are just as hard to handle as the scale.

Alain Resnais “Nuit et brouillard” is not the final treatise on the Holocaust, it is not even terribly informative, but it is a very important early attempt at bringing into the public conscience the nightmare that the Holocaust was and it is very successful at that.

Yet I do not want to watch this one again, it is the stuff of nightmares, though I know there will be several more movies covering this ground coming up for me.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens Leende) (1955)

Sommernattens smil
It is a well-known attribute of the List that certain directors are very well represented with Hitchcock well ahead of the pack. One of the directors massively represented is Ingmar Bergman. This is not the first time I review one of his movies and certainly it will not be the last one, but I believe this is the only time I will get to review a comedy of his and a romantic one, no less.

Apparently “Sommarnattens leende” was Bergman’s international breakthrough as it was shown on the Cannes film festival in 56 and I do find it curious that this should happen with a comedy when Bergman’s trademark is something quite different.

The plot of this movie is intricately complex and yet deceptively simple. It is about a group of people who are hooked up with the wrong person and through the resolution get paired correctly. The complexity is the knot these people are tied in and strange route the story takes to the resolution.

The lawyer, Fredrik Egerman, (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a lusty dude. He is married to a girl, Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) who at 19 years is younger than his son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam) from his first marriage. Despite this he is having an affair with Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), an actress much closer to his own age whom he also had an affair with after his first wife died (and possibly a son). Fredrik is quite easy and relaxed about his relationships, which is more than you can say about Henrik Egerman. He is in love with Anne, but since that love is forbidden he is trying out for Petra (Harriet Andersson), the lusty maid. Henrik is miserable and filled with guilt and maybe this is why he is studying to become a priest. All that horrible, delicious sin…

Desiree is also having an affair with the officer Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Straight as a board he is the aristocratic officer, correct, but full of pompous, self-important pride and he is not at all happy to find Fredrik in Desiree’s apartment. Carl-Magnus is himself married to Countess Charlotte Malcolm (Margit Carlqvist) in a sort of open relationship. They talk openly of their affairs, but Charlotte is pained by Carl- Magnus escapades, though it is indicated that she has had her own things going on. Charlotte is also a close friend and confident of Anne Egerman.

This is all getting awfully complicated so Desiree invites everybody to a weekend at her family estate, a manor of some status where, with the help of her mother, she wants to set everybody straight.

This is a comedy and a prime objective of a comedy is to get people to laugh. It took some time for me to get there and then I only found it funny in glimpses. Fredrik Egerman facing off Carl-Magnus Malcolm wearing a nightshirt and a silly nightcap was such a moment. His expression was pretty good. But otherwise it was more smiles than laughs with this movie. Part of the explanation is the aging, which is usually hard on comedies, but there may also be a cultural issue. Swedish humor is somewhat different from Danish humor and it was clear to me that parts of this movie would be funnier for a Swede (I apologize to my Swedish readers). That does not mean it was bad, it was just not that funny.

What really works for this movie are the women. Bergman must have found all the most delicious Swedish actresses he could find to work on this movie. They are all glorious, not just for their amazing good looks, but because they act circles around the men. This is their movie definitely. I saw Ulla Jacobsson before in “Hon dansade en sommar”, where she was the image of innocent (and pretty) youth. Harriet Andersson was sexuality incarnate in “Sommaren med Monika” and though I have not met Eva Dahlbeck and Margit Carlqvist before they are entirely up to standard.

The men may think they are in control, but clearly they are pretty ridiculous all of them. The women are manipulating them exactly like they want them and particularly the pompous Fredrik Egerman gets torn to pieces, and that is actually funny. Compared to similar period pieces from central Europe or America it is remarkable how powerful and free the women are here and not just because this is a comedy. It is in the tone and the wording, these are assertive women who take no bullshit and are not afraid to shoot back.

This is a period piece and that nags me a bit. There is no real reason why this should take place around the turn of the century and like most such cases it is done because a) the wealthy in this period are wealthy with style 2) the women can show off elaborate dresses and 3) due to more strict family laws and morality extramarital affairs are more complicated and full of guilt complexes, meaning that in later years you would be less stuck on the wrong partner. However in this movie everybody are openly having affairs with other people and the weekend at Armfeldt feels like a big swinger party so there is not much in terms of prudence and old school morality holding these people back. I would be much more interested to see this story played out in a modern setting, especially so that these gorgeous women need not hide behind those gigantic dresses.

“Sommarnattens leende” is an easy movie to watch and also an easy movie to like. It is a bit fluffy and maybe too light, but that is the point of comedies. I give it a thumbs up and forgive it that I did not laugh that much.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Phenix City Story (1955)

Lasternes by
Ugh, that was a tough one.

“The Phenix City Story” was a shocking experience, even for a 21st century jaded viewer like me. This is not only the most violent movie of the fifties (so far) but also one that gives us ugliness right in the face. It takes a strong stomach to get through this one.

I cannot begin to imagine how this movie would have felt like for an audience in its time.

You may argue that such an explicit exposition of crime and violence is a B-movie gimmick and undoubtedly this is a B-Movie, but I feel there is a real purpose to the explicitness here because the story told is both gruesome and real (at least so we are let to believe). The producers seem aware that maybe they have gone a bit too far and so have inserted a lengthy “news report” in the opening, telling us that the story is real, that the good guys won and preparing us for the murder of one of the lead characters. I am not sure though that I am easier about it knowing that this is supposed to be a real story. To think this really happened is just horrible.

So, the story is that Phenix City, Alabama has had a long history of gambling, prostitution and the associated mob activities. This apparently to the extent that the business employed a large part of the population and that it was, if not liked, then certainly accepted. When I say that the business employed a large part of the population that includes law enforcement and the courts.

Despite the overpowering strength of the mob there are segments fighting the mob, mainly due to their associated activities such a murders, intimidation and general corruption. However since law enforcement is bought and paid for this fight is a vigilant fight and thus ineffective and ultimately as bad as the mob itself.

The story told here is about the fight that finally overthrew the mob rule and it centers on the Patterson family. Albert Patterson (John McIntire) is an elderly lawyer who has kept strictly neutral, but is forced to take sides when his son, John (Richard Kiley) returns from Germany with wife and children and decides to take up the fight. The mob, led by jovial looking Rhett Tanner (Edward Andrews) decides early on to scare the new resistance away, but only manages to infuriate them. There is a truly horrible scene where a little black girl of maybe five years is picked up by mob bullies, killed and thrown out of the car on the lawn of John Patterson in front of his screaming children.

That was the moment where I wondered if I really wanted to watch this movie. Hurting children is seriously overstepping my tolerance.

All this was just to send a message and, almost as an afterthought, to punish the girl’s father Zeke Ward (James Edwards) for siding with the protesters. I do not know if there was a hint of racism in that the mob so callously kills a black child or that the producers chose to show it so explicitly. Would they have done so with a white girl?

John’s wife Mary Jo (Lenka Peterson) understandably freaks out and insists they leave this very minute. I tend to agree with her. This is no place to raise children and not for any cause would I risk my children. John only seem to get message from his wife halfway, sending the children away, but insisting to fight the battle.

It does have the effect of turning Albert Patterson to the cause and so the strategy is to get him elected as attorney general, empowering him to fight the mob. This sets off a vicious reaction from the mob as they are doing their utmost to sabotage and intimidate the election process. Again very explicitly depicted. When this fails they go for the man himself.

Murders, violence, blood running down faces, callous and cold blooded mobsters, I lost count of the incidents in this movie, there are so many victims. Vigilantism is always inches away as law is nonexistent here. Yet the message also seems to be that only law can succeed against inhuman crime of this caliber. It just seem almost naïve when corruption has soaked everything. What do you do when the very tools to fight corruption are corrupted?

There was one quote from the movie that was very telling of how close to the surface violence always lurks: Mary Jo has just seen Mr. Gage, a lawyer, casually pick up his gun “Does Mr. Gage always carry a gun?”. To which Albert answers: “Sure, I guess so, why not? He’s got a license”, and chuckles. Little did it help him though when he got mugged shortly after.

Yet, for all this, or because of all this, I found the movie had a lot of nerve and managed to keep me interested and even mesmerized all the way to the end. It is exciting and revolting and if this is truly what happened and happened for a long time in this town then somebody must sit back with a very bad taste.

I hate to admit it, but I did enjoy the movie. I just do not think I could bear watching the murder of that little girl again. Ugh.   

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Vildt Blod
I have arrived at one of the truly legendary movies on the list. “Rebel Without a Cause” is a movie everybody has heard of if not seen and usually for two reasons: James Dean and as the kick off of the rebellious youth character. I knew as much going in, but I actually had not seen it before.

To my pleasant surprise “Rebel Without a Cause” is a lot more than that.

The Book writes that this is the first movie to deal with youth crime, but will take it a step further and claim that this is the first movie to portray youth culture at all. The closest thing prior to this one is the idiotic “Babes in Arms” from 39, but those were just children playing at being adults. Before “Rebel Without a Cause” there were only children and adults. Coming of age a child would suddenly turn adult and do adult things. Now for the first time a movie describes the age in between as a separate entity, as a phase during which people are neither children nor adults, but something in transition.

This may sound trivial in an age soaked in youth culture, where every third movie uses that as target or source, but in the fifties this was something of a revolution. It is clear from the movie that this is a phase with its own problems and frustrations, something we know very well today, but apparently it came as a surprise back then. I found it most interesting to get a glimpse into this world of 1955 nascent youth culture.

Even this however is not the real mission of the movie, although it may be its greatest contribution to later generations. The real story here is about people lacking the support they need from their families and so break out of the system create their own. That these are teenagers seem almost coincidental and likely due to the sensitivity of this age group.

All of our three characters are groping for something their families cannot give them. Jim (James Dean) lives in what he considers a zoo. His father is living to placate his wife and his mother, both eager to control the family. The father tries to be his friend, but Jim needs a father, a man who can put his foot down and has dignity. The humiliation of his father rubs off on him and he despises his father and hates the two other women for it. Consequently he strives for dignity and self-respect.

Judy (Natalie Wood) is striving to break free of her controlling parents. They seem hell-bent on maintaining her status as a child and refuse to see the budding adult. Consequently everything she does is a rebellion of these shackles.  Hanging out with the wrong guys, staying out till late, wearing make-up and so on. Not an entirely unheard of teenage issue.

The sorriest of the three is Plato (Sal Mineo). He lives alone in a mansion with a housekeeper. None of his parents are present. What exactly they do is not clear, but Plato has been abandoned by parents who do not care for him. Just imagine the effect that has on a 16 year old guy. He has turned into a seriously disturbed young man who is craving for recognition and friendship and most of all someone who can be his parents. At the same time he is full of bitterness towards a world that consistently lets him down.

What these three characters find out is that they can find what they need from each other, whether it is dignity, respect or love, and thereby break out of the institutional core family structure. That is a heartbreaking, but also heartwarming story and something I can imagine struck a chord in its time. It is a coming of age story in a sense, but more so a critique and alternative to 1950’ies family dogma.

Around this core story there are a lot more going on. There is a counter culture among the young people with gangs, violence and crazy stunt, which sort of warns us of the dark side of rebellion and serves as a challenge for the three characters. This includes the most disturbing scene of the movie where Jim is challenged by gang leader Buzz to a deadly game of chikie run. It is glorious and it is shocking.

Yet for all this what we probably remember the most is that this is one of three movies James Dean did before he died, not in a chickie run, but close, speeding in the dark without lights. It is no wonder James Dean got idolized over this movie, he completely nails it and the camera loves him, but his early death also contributed to the legend. I see James Dean’s influence pop up countless times in pop culture through the six decades since his dead in attitudes, looks, gazes, rage and restless energy. Frankly I do not think his influence can be overstated and this movie is where it started.

There are a lot of reasons to recommend “Rebel Without a Cause”, but I think I will recommend it not for all the above reasons but because it is simple a good and interesting movie with a good story, interesting characters and a nerve that keeps me glued to my seat.

Anything negative I can think of? Only that I wish somebody had punched Jim’s grandmother on the nose and not just her painting.