Got to Do Something

Time diluted Rebel Without a Cause. In its post-war, baby boomer era, the directionless Jim Stark (James Dean) represented an entire teenage populace. To the day, it was crucial in attempting to unwind the empty, hollow teenage experience of 1950s America.

In places, Rebel Without a Cause still presents an appreciable teardown of broken masculine culture. Seeing his father wearing a frilled apron, picking up dropped food from the floor, Stark breaks down. To be a man isn’t to submit to a woman – in this case, his overbearing mother – or do household chores. Those gender dynamics still endure, ingrained in a culture that meanders too slowly toward equality. Stark’s generation was the first to face this possibility.

Rebel Without a Cause depicts low stakes, even arbitrary teenage anguish

Stark is a good kid. That’s seen frequently throughout Rebel Without a Cause, taking a younger kid under his wing, Plato (Sal Mineo) trying to protect him from the dangerous streak Stark finds himself in.

It’s that situation that lessens the script’s power. His family dynamic and his parent’s confused messaging works, but prior to a life-altering car wreck, those issues struggle to manifest, or at least match Stark’s angst. “Parents just don’t understand,” says one character, a generic retort. In another crucial moment as Stark admits part in a deadly crash, his defense amounts to, “They called me chicken,” somehow viewed as a logical response to Rebel Without a Cause’s male-driven concerns. Irrationality demeans this otherwise iconic Americana.

Glossy Hollywood aesthetics dress the film lavishly, but again, context erodes the critical themes. Less than a decade before the Civil Rights movement, Rebel Without a Cause depicts low stakes, even arbitrary teenage anguish, wholly unimportant historically on Stark’s personal level.

Rebel Without a Cause serves a flashy relic, notable for James Dean’s middle role in his three-film career/life, and proof he was destined for stardom if fate chose differently. The way he weaves a manic depressive streak and an understanding as an inadvertent mentor is all performative art. His talent, brief as we were able to see it, is undeniable. In this movie though, it’s a startling indictment on a confusing time that’s lost much of its wider empathy.


While stemming from a softer source, that hardly diminished Rebel Without a Cause. The HDR brings incredible, bright contrast to the screen, unusually aggressive for a catalog effort. This isn’t bright enough as to clip, merely pushing nits to an extreme. Arguably, it’s too much given how the frame glows. Black levels dodge crush, more natural than the contrast.

Grand color enhances flesh tones in the best ’50s era manner. Density in the blues and vividness in the reds push limits, just shy of bleeding, but still natural (if borderline). Rebel Without a Cause’s mastering aims for excess and pop. Attractive in the modern HDR era, but Rebel Without a Cause doesn’t appear accurate much of the time.

Texture thrives though, the best thing about this disc, along with grain reproduction. Clarity excels and all damage disappears. It’s pure unfiltered film, benefiting from the resolution afforded by the format. Definition bests the Blu-ray by a wide margin, even with the softer approach to the cinematography.


Upmixed into Dolby Atmos, the update primarily concerns the score. Each channel engages in the orchestration, spreading wide while keeping dialog firmly centered. All the trickery aside, Rebel Without a Cause preserves the original intent, likely from the 4-track magnetic prints.


Author Douglas L. Rathgeb handles commentary. From there, a documentary on James Dean, a bit with Dennis Hopper remembering the lot, and soundless deleted scenes.

Rebel Without a Cause
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


While its problems now appear innocuous, Rebel Without a Cause still captures an American moment for the post-war baby boom.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 42 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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