Perhaps no other movie depicted teenagers with sensitivity and stark realism better than “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955). The film was one of its kind in its portrayal of restless youth that represented the underside of the golden Fifties era that gave us “Leave it to Beaver.” Its themes of delinquency and alienation still resonate to this day.
There is no question that an iconic film of that stature was driven by its iconic star—James Dean. And certainly in the unconventional way “Rebel” was made from its casting to its story line was also driven by the iconoclastic director Nicholas Ray. The story behind the making of the film, as exhaustively written and researched by authors Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel in “Live Fast and Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause,” published this past fall in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the film and Dean’s death.
Remarkably, the authors were able to make this a detailed biography of the film despite the fact that the principals—Dean, Ray, and actors Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo—have long since passed away. Most of the reminisces here are from the underrated screenwriter Stewart Stern and surviving actors such as Corey Allen and Frank Mazzola. Aside from the main story line, the book also touches upon the conditions that surrounded filming (the Cold War and the rise of juvenile delinquency), casting (including a story on Plato’s nameless nanny, played by Marietta Canty), and the psychological power trips evoked by Ray (ironically the director related better with the kids than his generation). Also in the book are some juicy tidbits surrounding the players, including Wood’s affair with the older Ray; references to the themes of homosexuality evoked by Dean and Mineo; and insight about the Rebel ‘curse’ and the red jacket famously worn by Dean. Naturally the book concludes about Rebel’s impact on popular culture, which has been tremendous and global (Kudos to the authors for mentioning Morrissey’s video “Suedehead,” in which the brooding alternative rocker visits Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana).
If there was ever a book about a movie that deserves a medal for its insightful chronicle and exhaustive research, it’s “Live Fast, Die Young.” This back story alone would make an interesting movie. Hopefully Hollywood will knock on the authors’ doors to make a deal, if they hadn’t already. For more information about the book, visit livefastdieyoungbook.com