It also served as a springboard for the acting careers of its two other stars Natalie Wood (in her first non-child 'adult' role) and unknown 16 year-old actor Sal Mineo. Judy kisses leather-jacketed boyfriend Buzz (Corey Allen), the leader of the gang.
The film ends with the fatal transference of Dean's scarlet red-jacket/windbreaker to Mineo [referenced in the final scene of Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1974)].
The 2005 book, Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause by authors Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, documented many of the gossipy rumors and truths about the film's making and its principals, including such facts as: 43 year-old director Nicholas Ray and youthful upcoming actor Dennis Hopper were both sleeping with 16 year-old Natalie Wood, the choreographed on-screen knife fight (with real knives) drew actual blood, Natalie Wood was replaced by an extra for the long-shot view of her signaling the start of the chickie-run, and all three iconic red jackets used by James Dean in the film have disappeared.
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.
Along with dissonant jazzy music on the soundtrack, an unseen police car sounds its sirens [the film opens and closes with the sound of sirens of police cars], and the authorities drag him into the lobby of the Police Station (Juvenile Division). Jim is separated from his parents and taken into Ray's inside office to be given a hearing. If I felt that I belonged someplace, you know, then...
They bring him in for "plain drunkenness."The scene in the police station cleverly introduces the three principal characters as they are each separately hauled in for varying reasons on this late Easter night, and their paths cross. She has been picked up wandering about alone at one o'clock at night after curfew, and has been mistaken for a streetwalker "looking for company." Ray thinks her behavior is one way to get back at her father, to get him to pay attention. "Somebody ought to put poison in her Epsom salts," Jim suggests. Ray: But you don't think that's the right solution. The next day, Jim's first day at his new high school, he nervously leaves for school from his suburban home without eating breakfast with his family, but he is forced to take his father's advice about choosing his friends and not letting them choose him: For his first day at school, Jim again wears 'adult' clothing - a white shirt and dark sportscoat (and a tie that he immediately removes after walking outside). Behind the credits, the film opens in Los Angeles with one of the three teenagers, the major character, lone troublemaker Jim Stark (James Dean) seen tipsy-drunk in the darkness, lying contentedly (in a fetal position) on a sidewalk curb with a beatific smile on his face. He has a wind-up toy monkey next to him [one of the film's many references to animals]. If he's, well, I mean I love him and all that type of stuff, and I-I mean, I don't want to hurt him. [Note: Other films that caused the same sensation included the earlier 50s film The Wild One (1953) with Marlon Brando, Blackboard Jungle (1955), and High School Confidential (1958).] It has been surmised that Sal Mineo's teen-aged character in the film was obviously gay and troubled by typical problems of in-the-closet homosexuals in the 50s - the film disguises his problems, but hints at the possibility that he is seeking out Dean's character because he rejects fake machismo.[Note: All three leading stars, who experienced troubled lives of their own, suffered premature deaths under unusual and tragic circumstances - a car crash at age 24 in 1955, a mysterious drowning at age 43 in 1981, and a stabbing-murder at age 37 in 1976.]The film received only three Academy Awards nominations (without wins): Best Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo with the first of two unsuccessful career nominations), Best Supporting Actress (Natalie Wood with the first of three unsuccessful career nominations), and Best Motion Picture Story (Nicholas Ray). It wasn't nominated for either Best Picture (won by the short, unassuming romantic drama Marty (1955)) or Best Director for Nicholas Ray. Behind wooden-framed, glass partitions off the lobby, two other middle-class, misunderstood, alienated teenagers are also being held for their anti-social behavior: a pretty, unloved girl named Judy (Natalie Wood) in a bright-red outfit with matching red lipstick, and an emotionally-disturbed, anguished 'orphan' named John ('Plato') (Sal Mineo). I mean, maybe he doesn't mean it, but he acts like he does. We were gonna celebrate Easter and we were gonna catch a double bill. So I put on my new dress and I came out, and he grabbed my face and he started rubbing off all the lipstick. She cries: "I'll never get close to anybody."Jim drunkenly imitates and mimics the sound of a passing police siren, almost a cry for help in itself, while sprawled on an elevated shoeshine chair in the lobby of the station. With bottled-up frustration, Jim first lightly touches, kicks, and then boxes bare-knuckled with a large wooden desk, venting his pent-up crazed energy. Jim: (after spying on his parents through the round slot in the door) Aw, she eats him alive and he takes it. He joins next-door neighbor Judy on her way to school, recognizing her from the night before in the police station.