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"You're tearing me apart!"—Jim Stark
Dean is Jim Stark, a Troubled but Cute 17-year-old with a messed-up home life. His mother (Ann Doran) prefers to move whenever a problem comes up rather than confront it and his father (Jim Backus) is a Henpecked Husband who lets her do as she pleases. As a result, the Starks are constantly moving around and have just arrived in Los Angeles as the film opens. At his new High School, Jim befriends Plato (Mineo), an Ambiguously Gay innocent. Jim immediately finds himself up against Buzz (Corey Allen), the local Jerk Jock, but takes somewhat more kindly to Buzz's girlfriend Judy (Wood). Needless to say, she later becomes Jim's girlfriend. Most of the movie takes place on a night after a chicken race gone horribly wrong.
There is a "Rebel Without A Cause curse". The film's three main stars (Dean, Wood and Mineo) all met tragic deaths at a young age, Dean before the film even opened.
- Actor Allusion: In one scene, Jim Stark mutters at his father (played by Jim Backus) in a Mr. Magoo-like voice. (Backus being, of course, the voice of Magoo.)
- Adults Are Useless: In some scenes.
- Berserk Button: You shouldn't have called him 'chicken.'
- Bury Your Gays: Being only implied to be gay doesn't protect Plato from this trope.
- Chewing the Scenery: "You're tearing me apart!"; "I got the bullets!" Everyone else occasionally chips in as well. Of note is Judy's reaction when the phone rings.
- Cool Loser: James Dean is a high school outcast.
- Covers Always Lie: Jim is portrayed as a violent and menacing, if not downright villainous, figure in the promotional posters, no doubt to capitalize on the fact that All Girls Want Bad Boys. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. See Nice Guy for more details.
- Cymbal-Banging Monkey
- The Danza: James Dean plays James "Jim" Stark.
- Dawson Casting: Mineo and Wood are the right age; Dean is 24 and looks it, enough that his romances with the other two feel a bit squicky.
- Deconstruction: Possibly of teen delinquency films of the 50's.
- Downer Ending
- Bittersweet Ending: Plato is dead, But Jim's dad vows to be a stronger dad from now on and Jim's parents seem to be on the road to being better parents.
- Henpecked Husband: Mr. Frank Stark, Jim's dad.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Keep an eye out for an eighteen year old Dennis Hopper.
- In Name Only: Has nothing to do with the earlier book Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: The kid that Plato shoots in the mansion. Sure, he was shot in the chest. He was also trying to help corner and possibly kill Plato and/or Jim.
- Lap Pillow: Jim and Judy, as seen in the above screenshot.
- Men Don't Cry: Averted in the ending.
- Nice Guy: In stark conrast to how to promotions made him out to be, Jim is a decent, gentle, sensitive and kind-hearted boy who unhesitantly befriends and stands up for the meek Plato on his first day of school, takes care of people who have shown him kindness, and has a conscience so solid he practically LEAPT to take responsibility for the death of his drag-race opponent. Now if only his loser Henpecked Husband of a father was strong enough to stand by him when he needs him, he is MORE than capable of becoming a respectable member of adult society.
- Nobody Calls Me Chicken
- No Name Given: Judy's last name is not revealed.
- Parental Incest: It's hinted that Judy's father might have a suppressed attraction for her. He refuses to show affection for her, stating that she's "getting too old for that kind of stuff", and when she kisses him, he slaps her.
- Playing Against Type: Jim Backus.
- Pretty in Mink
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Ray Fremick, whose first name is the last name of the film's director, Nicholas Ray. Coincidence? You decide.
- Rebel Relaxation: Trope Namer.
- Sleeping Single: Judy's parents, as you can see here.
- Suicide by Cop: Plato
- Teens Are Monsters: But only because there are no adults to properly guide them.
- Tender Tears: Jim weeping for the death of Plato.
- True Companions: Jim, Judy and Plato, as seen in the above screen shot.
- What Could Have Been: Rebel was supposed to be black & white. The decision to shoot the film in color meant less pay for extras which is why there were few extras in the knife fight scene.
- Word of Gay: Plato is supposed to be gay, but the censors at the time wouldn't let them say it, so it's only implied.
- Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb