Jim Stark: “If I had one day when I didn’t have to be all confused and I didn’t have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know?”
One of the positive things that have come out of the past year has been that people have been reaching out to connect — and when you do get to talking there seems to be a sense of exigence about the exchanges. I recently had one of my closest friends since high school reach out to share feelings he’d never articulated before – and he wondered out loud why he was feeling so emotional. He didn’t understand it. I think recent developments have heightened our awareness of issues that have been latent within us, that we’ve compartmentalized into that filing cabinet labeled: “I will deal with that later.” I had another dear acquaintance share that she’d never felt like she belonged in the bigger scheme of things. She’s felt on the outside, and the pandemic has only heightened that feeling. I think that’s part of our journey – to find a place in the world – and feel like our contribution makes a difference. Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) draws on that constant yearning – that becomes exasperated and amplified during our teenage years. It’s impossible not to connect on some basic level with Jim Stark when he shouts out early in the film “You’re tearing me apart!” It’s a cri-de-coeur that rings out through the ages.
That’s quite a diatribe of existentialism that the young high school students get at the Griffith Observatory early in the film – stunningly shot in one of the nascent examples of Cinemascope. The teenagers are forced to sit underneath the dome for an astronomy lecture about the beginning and end of the solar system. Jim and Plato and his colleagues are staring upward – cringing back into their seats as the sky is reflected on their faces. “And while the flash of our beginning has not yet traveled the light years into distance,” says the lecturer…. “has not yet been seen by planets deep within the other galaxies, we will disappear into the blackness of the space from which we came.” The scene puts the film into a higher scope. It alludes to the recent trauma of World War II, the fears of nuclear holocaust in a larger content – and then specifically to their turbulent experiences at home – as well as the existential aloneness. No wonder they have to run outside to the parking lot the moment this is over and let off some steam. Buzz – the school bully – will challenge Jim to a knife fight in a setting that overlooks Los Angeles – and this will eventually lead to the ‘chicken run’ where one of them will meet his fate – flying off a cliff and crashing onto the rocks below. The widescreen accentuating their place in the world. Notice all the space that surrounds them.
Nicholas Ray’s direction was venerated by the French New Wave. Jean Luc Goddard declared that Ray “was cinema.” And there’s a strong feeling of subversion in his direction. The opening in the police station is a master class in composition and suggestion. He introduces the three main characters and keeps them contained, shooting in low angles. In one particular moment he stages Judy inside the officer’s window-paned office – and on either side – on the outside we see the framed figures of Jim and Plato – all three isolated and yet visually in the same frame. Later on – Jim will come home after the death of Buzz to plead his parents for help. He will sit upside down on the couch and look up the stairs observing – pleadingly – as his mother descends the stairs. The camera turns obliquely on her – the world as we see it turning upside down. At the climax of the film, the trio will form a unit and seek sheltered in an abandoned mansion – Plato giving a tour with a candelabra – a low angle luxuriating on the curve of the staircases – and later observing them godlike as they lower themselves onto the empty pool in the yard. Some of the dialogue may feel dated and some of the psychology will feel out of whack – but those are the things I love about the film. It still manages to jolt – and rattle – and Ray’s ways of communicating meaning through the lens are still vibrant. Like the scene where Judy (a passionate Natalie Wood) – who has a complex relationship with her father as she’s no longer his little girl and doesn’t know what to do with her affections – comes home and finds herself on the landing in the forefront of the screen – and her mom and dad far in the background but still on focus. And then there’s Plato (a heartbreaking Sal Mineo) walking Jim home – the first time I recall seeing a young homosexual boy represented – and the two of them standing by the gate of the house. “Hey, you want to come home with me? I mean, there’s nobody home at my house, and heck, I’m not tired. Are you?”
The film will always be remembered by James Dean in his red leather jacket, white t-shirt and blue jeans. There are two moments that astonish me, all within the same scene before he takes Judy back to the Observatory. “Nobody acts sincere,” he says as a moth lands on his shoulder and he reacts to it. He then invites her to go with him and he awkwardly leans on the hood of the car – hiding his hands in his pockets.
Jim Stark : “Is this where you live?”
Judy : “Who lives?”
Available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Microsoft, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Redbox and DIRECTV.
Screenplay by Stewart Stern
Adapted by Irving Shulman
Based on a story by Nicholas Ray
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen and William Hopper
Bringing “Rebel Without a Cause” to the Screen
…Fresh off the success of “Johnny Guitar”…Ray met with Warner Bros., which asked him to direct “Rebel Without a Cause.” The movie was to be based on Dr. Robert M. Lindner’s 1944 clinical study of a disturbed, incarcerated youth, whose violent past was revealed under hypnosis. Warner Bros. had bought the rights to the book in 1946 with two actors in mind for the anguished teenager—Marlon Brando and (surprisingly) Sidney Lumet—but neither worked out. The studio held on to the property for eight years. By then juvenile delinquency had become a staple of the media, endlessly covered in newspapers, magazines, and such films as Blackboard Jungle. At first, Ray wasn’t interested. He felt that Lindner’s book was too clinical and too focused on abnormal behavior. “It was neither the psychopath nor the son of a poor family that I was interested in,” he said. It was only after he began developing his own story, called The Blind Run—a violent, 17-page story outline—that the idea for Rebel took shape. The Blind Run was to begin with a man on fire running toward the camera. It consisted of a series of brutal, shocking scenes of criminal acts, such as a girl stripped to the waist being whipped by three teenagers. Ray could never have made that movie in 1954, but soon he began to work with Warner Bros. producer David Weisbart, who had been a film editor on Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Kazan. At age 39, Weisbart was the youngest contract producer on the lot. Together he and Ray worked to turn The Blind Run into an acceptable story. Ray eventually came up with the solution to what he saw as the problem of the book: he made the juvenile delinquents into middle-class malcontents from “nice” homes—they are us. Best-selling novelist Leon Uris and a former schoolteacher, Irving Shulman, wrote early versions of Rebel before Ray found his voice in Stewart Stern, a 32-year-old writer from New York, who was brought to Ray’s attention by the dynamic young film composer Leonard Rosenman. (vanityfair.com)
Casting “Rebel Without a Cause”
Ray had no trouble deciding whom he wanted to play Jim Stark. James Dean came to Ray’s attention through Kazan, who had just finished directing the actor in his first starring role, in “East of Eden.” But Kazan warned Ray against using him. “I became very impatient with the Dean legend.… Brando was Dean’s hero,” recalled Kazan. “Marlon, well trained by Stella Adler, had excellent technique.… Dean had no technique.” But Kazan perhaps hadn’t realized how damaged Ray was, or just how beautifully the two troubled souls would merge. Both Dean and Ray grew up virtually fatherless. Dean’s father, Winton, a dental technician at a veterans’ hospital, essentially abandoned his son at age nine to be raised by his aunt and uncle, after the boy’s mother died of ovarian cancer. Later, when Dean was a young man trying to break into the movies, he moved back in with his father, who didn’t hide his contempt for acting as a profession. Warner Bros., however, didn’t think the choice a good one, either for Dean or for the movie. As late as March 1955—a month before filming—the studio was still considering Robert Wagner, Tab Hunter, or John Kerr, all up-and-coming Hollywood actors, for the lead. At the same time the studio was trying to get Dean to hold out for a bigger picture, preferably one directed by Kazan, George Stevens, or William Wyler. The studio didn’t consider “Rebel” to be an important film; it was planned as a black-and-white feature. But Ray was so sure he had his lead rebel that he named the character “Stark”—an anagram of “Trask,” Dean’s character in “East of Eden.” “But don’t tell those bastards,” Dean said to Ray (referring to Warner Bros.) after he agreed to play Stark. Having found his Stark, Ray interviewed a number of actresses to play Stark’s girl, the wayward Judy, driven to delinquency by her rejecting father (played by William Hopper), who is disturbed by Judy’s budding sexuality. Warner Bros. wanted Debbie Reynolds, Margaret O’Brien, Carroll Baker (recommended by Elia Kazan), or Kathryn Grant (later Mrs. Bing Crosby). Even Jayne Mansfield was briefly in the running. “The original concept of Judy was a much trashier girl,” says Faye Mayo, who was the double for Judy in the film. Ray had Mansfield read for a screen test, but he didn’t put film in the camera. It was one of several ways in which he tried to thwart the wishes of the Warner Bros. executives.
Natalie Wood desperately wanted the part, but at 16 she had played only juveniles. She knew the role of Judy would help her to break into adult roles, and also to wrest control of her career from her domineering mother, Maria Gurdin. Ray was immediately drawn to Wood, Gavin Lambert recalls. “She was very young, and that was always attractive to Nick,” he says. In fact, she was at least five years younger than all the candidates except O’Brien, who was 18. But it was not only her youth that appealed to him, Lambert thought. “How quickly did Natalie realize that he found her extremely desirable, and how soon did Nick make his move? … The interview took place in the first week of February, and by the time she made her first screen test, ten days later they were lovers,” recalls Lambert. Wood got the part—not just due to her affair with Ray but because he recognized in her a rebellious spirit trying desperately to break out. “There is only one girl who has shown the capacity to play Judy, and she is Natalie Wood,” Ray wrote in a Warner Bros. memo. To Wood, Ray seemed “mysterious, laconic and powerful,” an “aging Heathcliff.” Sal Mineo was the last of the juveniles to be cast, as Plato, Stark’s worshipful friend. He reminded Ray of his son Tony, from his first marriage, “except he was prettier.” He had been raised in the Bronx; his father was a coffin-maker. At 16, he had already appeared twice on Broadway, in Tennessee Williams’s “The Rose Tattoo” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “The King and I.” Dean and the other cast members were impressed by this Broadway experience…
After casting the stars, Ray turned his attention to the high-school gang members who surround and threaten Jim Stark. One of the actors he interviewed was Frank Mazzola, the leader of a real gang called the Athenians. Mazzola had been weeded out by the casting director but muscled his way in to see Ray anyway. “They thought that because I was in a gang, I might create problems on the set. I came out of the Depression, really,” Mazzola explains in a West Hollywood restaurant, his hair, still jet black, tied back in a ponytail. “We didn’t have any pop culture. The guys that we loved flew, like my uncle, a pilot in the Second World War. Everybody I knew wanted to grow up and fly P-38s.… And so these clubs started forming—ours was called the Athenians. We defended our turf. You’d probably get in two or three fights a night just defending Hollywood. It was like a sport.” Ray not only cast Mazzola, he gave him an office on the Warner lot, from which he could serve as technical adviser on gang behavior. Ray instructed him to hang out with Dean and take him to meetings of the Athenians. “I want you to get us the cars, tell us what kind of clothes we should be wearing,” Ray told him. Mazzola had the wardrobe department buy the gang’s clothes at Matson’s, on Hollywood Boulevard, where the Athenians bought their club jackets. The wardrobe department then soiled and laundered more than 400 pairs of Levi’s for the cast… (vanityfair.com)
The Making of “Rebel Without a Cause”
Once the cast was assembled, Ray held script meetings at his Chateau Marmont bungalow. Built in 1929 as an apartment building with turrets and spires, the Chateau was surrounded by bungalows. Ray’s own, No. 2, was nestled beside the swimming pool and had three bedrooms, a big kitchen, and a fireplace. He often held Sunday-afternoon parties there, which Dean and much of the cast of Rebel attended—it was there that Dean met one of his heroes, the playwright Clifford Odets. “Nick’s whole thing was to make us a family,” said Steffi Sidney, who played Mil, one of the girls in the gang. The daughter of Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, she has kept close ties with her fellow actors from the movie, especially Beverly Long and Jack Grinnage, who was cast as Moose (but mistakenly credited as Chick). “Nick was the father that we all needed. I think we would have done anything for him—anything he wanted—at least that’s the way I felt,” Grinnage says. “He was very open to ideas. One day we just improvised all day, though we never used it.” …Shooting began on Wednesday, March 30, at the Griffith Park planetarium. They were to begin by filming the knife fight between Buzz and Stark, as choreographed by Frank Mazzola. Impressed by Mazzola’s description of a knife fight he’d had in a Hollywood park, Ray had asked the 19-year-old to describe the fight to Dean and Corey Allen, the young actor and law student who was playing Buzz, Stark’s rival for Judy. “‘I want you to go to the observatory with Jimmy and Corey, and you just stage the fight, rehearse it the way you just told me, like a boxing match,’” Mazzola recalls Ray’s saying to him, adding, “and if you look at that sequence, it is like that—all feints.” But the filming of the actual scene almost didn’t happen. A few days before, Dean had disappeared, and no one could find him. The executives at Warner Bros. considered filing a breach-of-contract suit, and talks began about replacing him.
“Dean was not certain at first that he trusted Nick,” says Lambert, “which I don’t think Nick was aware of.… Nick always felt that they had an immediate rapport. Well, they did have … but then Dean had these second thoughts. He disappeared for a few days, and it unnerved everybody, which I’m sure he enjoyed.” None of the other cast members knew that Dean had taken a powder. An all-points bulletin went out from the studio to locate him. Ray tried calling Dean’s apartment, on Sunset Plaza Drive, and messages were left with his service at HO7-5191. He could not be reached in New York either. Finally, Dean called the movie’s screenwriter, Stewart Stern, with whom he had developed a friendship, and confided his lack of trust in his director, particularly compared with how he had felt about Kazan—an irony, given Kazan’s dislike of Dean. But there may have been other reasons for Dean’s flight from the set. Perhaps he sensed that Ray was so obsessed with his character that the line between fact and fiction was disappearing; perhaps he already sensed the degree to which Ray and the movie would devour him. “Remember,” Mazzola says, “Jimmy was just starting to come to terms with his fame.” In any case, he returned just in time for his first scene. The film almost derailed again when, after a few days of shooting, Ray was summoned to the office of Steve Trilling, Jack L. Warner’s executive assistant, and told to stop shooting. The executives had seen the rushes and panicked—were Ray’s young actors up to the task? Trilling then asked the Warner Bros. projectionist, who had been running the rushes, what he thought of the material. “Mr. Trilling,” he said, “frankly, I think it’s the only picture worth something on the lot.” They gave Ray the go-ahead to finish his movie, and they would reshoot it in color.
By now, the studio sensed a hit in the making—East of Eden had just been released, and Dean’s fan mail had spiked to 400 letters a week. Beverly Long and the other Rebel gang members went to Matson’s “to buy something for Jimmy, because the jacket he had didn’t work in WarnerColor. So one of the guys tried on that red Windbreaker, and everybody at once said, Yeah, that’s it! Just buy it! And that jacket—wow, it became the symbol.” Ray consulted with former Group Theater set designer John Hamilton, “a great drunk and a great eye,” according to the director, and the two men chose colors from Life magazine. “The red-on-red for Jimmy evolved as a result of an improvisation in my living room,” Ray said. “I had a red couch.… Jimmy had been red-on-red on the couch, and it was smoldering danger. All were significant.” One of the early scenes that had to be reshot in color was the opening sequence, in which a drunken Dean rounds the corner and sees a toy monkey on the sidewalk. He lies down next to it and tries to cover it with a scrap of paper. “It was about three in the morning when we shot that scene,” recalls Long. “It was freezing, wet, cold outside. I was sitting on a curb and had a blanket wrapped around me. I was so affected by Jimmy—his concentration, his ability to make that work. I was in tears.” Filming was completed on May 26, 1955, 11 days behind schedule. On the last night of shooting, Ray and the cast headed for Googie’s, a pancake-and-hamburger joint across the street from the Chateau, which had become a second home to the cast. Roger Donoghue, a young boxer who hung around the set, recalled, “Nick had an old ‘50 or ‘51 Cadillac that he had bought from Robert Taylor for something like 800 bucks. We all got in the car, Jimmy went ahead on his motorcycle.… The kids didn’t want it to end, and Nick didn’t want it to end, and it was probably the end of Nick that night, too.” (vanityfair.com)
About Screenwriter Stewart Stern
Stewart Stern was born in New York City on March 22, 1922, and reared in Manhattan. As a child, he spent many vacations at the vast Rockland County estate of Adolph Zukor, an uncle by marriage who was a founder of Paramount Pictures; fellow guests might include Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. “We lived in the shadow of our rich relations,” Mr. Stern told The Seattle Times in 1996. “My mother was intent on keeping up with the people she was raised with, which was impossible. My father was a physician who wanted to be a rabbi but was weighed down by a great sense of obligation to support his family in style.” Mr. Stern said that he “felt the depression in our household, and thought it must be my fault,” and added, “There was no demonstration of love I could read as a little boy.” As an infantryman during the war, Mr. Stern fought at the Battle of the Bulge, in which some 500 members of his battalion died. Afterward, he made his way to Hollywood, where he began his career as a dialogue director, guiding actors through their lines. He proved so adept at rewriting maladroit dialogue that he soon turned to full-time screenwriting. By the early 1970s, Mr. Stern’s Hollywood career had wound down: His final big-screen picture, all too fittingly titled “The Last Movie,” was directed by Dennis Hopper. The film, which tells the story of a South American movie shoot gone horribly wrong, was released in 1971 to poor notices. Mr. Stern continued to write for television during the ’70s, but in the mid-1980s, assailed by the anxiety that had plagued him since he was a boy, he quit Hollywood, and screenwriting, for Seattle. “Writing on assignment, with lots of money handed to you before you even began, got very scary for me,” he said in the Seattle Times interview. “My dread of not being perfect, something I got from a childhood surrounded by powerful, successful people, began to infect everything I wrote.” In Seattle, where he made his home to the end of his life, Mr. Stern taught screenwriting at the University of Washington and at the Film School, a nonprofit educational organization he founded with Mr. Jacobsen…His other screenwriting credits include “The Ugly American” (1963), based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and starring Marlon Brando, and “The James Dean Story,” a 1957 documentary directed by Robert Altman and George W. George. He was the author of a book, “No Tricks in My Pocket: Paul Newman Directs,” published in 1989.
…Mr. Stern’s screenplays were praised by critics for their psychological depth — an attribute, he said, that stemmed from his own turbulent inner life. Drawing on that interior landscape let him write as he did, he said, but its very presence eventually made writing impossible. With a co-author, Alfred Hayes, Mr. Stern received an Oscar nomination for his first film, the 1951 drama “Teresa.” (The two men were nominated for their joint work on the film’s original story, which was the basis for Mr. Stern’s screenplay.) Directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring John Ericson and Pier Angeli, “Teresa” told the story of an American G.I. who returns home with his Italian war bride, and his painful adjustment to civilian life. For the screenplay, Mr. Stern drew deeply on his own combat experience in World War II, for which he received a Bronze Star…Mr. Stern was also nominated for an Oscar for “Rachel, Rachel,” the 1968 drama starring Joanne Woodward and directed by her husband, Paul Newman. His screenplay, an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s 1966 novel, “A Jest of God,” centered on the yearnings of a lonely schoolteacher. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Renata Adler called it “a little sappy at moments, but the best written, most seriously acted American movie in a long time.” For television, Mr. Stern adapted “The Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams, into a 1973 broadcast starring Katharine Hepburn, Sam Waterston, Joanna Miles and Michael Moriarty. He won an Emmy Award for his adaptation of Flora Rheta Schreiber’s book “Sybil,” about a woman with multiple-personality disorder, into a 1976 mini-series starring Sally Field. But Mr. Stern was almost certainly best known for “Rebel Without a Cause,” released in 1955. A searing story of adolescent disaffection, the film, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Dean, is considered one of the foremost of its era. Dean died at 24 in a car crash shortly before it opened. In creating the screenplay, which was based on Irving Shulman’s adaptation of a story by Ray, Mr. Stern looked to his own disaffected youth. As he explained afterward, he based Dean’s character, Jim Stark, on his young self and modeled Jim’s parents — unnaturally detached and seemingly incapable of love — on his own…A documentary about Mr. Stern and his work, “Going Through Splat,” directed by Jon Steven Ward, was released in 2005. In an interview with The Vancouver Sun that year, Mr. Stern was asked whether his parents had ever seen “Rebel Without a Cause.” “Yes; they thought it was marvelous,” he replied. “But they never recognized themselves.” (nytimes.com)
About Writer and Director Nicholas Ray
Born on Aug. 7, 1911 in Galesville, WI, Ray was of German and Norwegian descent, and attended the University of Chicago for a year on scholarship due to a radio play he wrote. He also went to the University of Wisconsin, also for a year, before leaving after winning a Taliesin Fellowship to study architecture, music, sculpture, philosophy and theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s artistic colony in Wisconsin. In 1932, he moved to New York, where three years later he came into contact with Elia Kazan by playing the lead role in the director’s first play, “The Young Go First” (1935). Meanwhile, Ray had a variety of show business jobs, including working as a producer of the CBS radio show “Back Where I Come From” and producing propaganda broadcasts for Voice of America during World War II. But at that time, Ray was adrift, which concerned producer John Houseman, who at the time was leading the propaganda effort for the Office of War Information. He also drifted into marriage with actress Jean Evans in 1936, though he remained unfaithful to her – with men and woman – until their divorce in 1940. After entering the movie business as Kazan’s assistant director on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945), Ray was guided by Houseman in directing his first feature, “They Live by Night” (1949), a rural noir starring Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger that was shot for RKO Pictures two years prior, but was held up from release by millionaire Howard Hughes’ chaotic takeover of the company. The film was finally released and became the template for all other couples-on-the-run thrillers to follow, while later it was remade by Robert Altman as “Thieves Like Us” (1974). Ray followed with two middling melodramas, “A Woman’s Secret” (1949) and “Knock on Any Door” (1949), with the latter making a forceful social statement about juvenile delinquency, but its emphasis on polemics rather than drama blunted the overall effect. The film starred Humphrey Bogart, who returned for the director’s next production, “In a Lonely Place” (1950), a dark, romantic noir with a bleak ending that was difficult to market and went on to box office failure, but was well-received by critics and went on to become one of the best film noirs ever made. It also ranked among the best work ever done by both star and director. By this time, Ray had married “In a Lonely Place” star Gloria Grahame in 1948, only to divorce her four years later after finding her in bed with his 13-year-old son, Tony, who was the product of his marriage with Jean Evans.
Ray’s concentration on disaffected loners – individuals who, by choice or fate, could not be integrated into society’s mainstream – was already becoming a hallmark, with Bogart’s portrayal of an embittered asocial screenwriter suspected of murder in “In a Lonely Place” being the most striking example. After the John Wayne-Robert Ryan war drama “Flying Leathernecks” (1951), he went on to direct several more stark, but compelling films about anguished characters on the fringes, like “On Dangerous Ground” (1951) starring Ryan as a city cop disillusioned by the rampant violence that surrounds him; Ray’s careening camera served as an apt metaphor for the instability of an atomized urban existence. Despite the studio-imposed happy ending, with Ryan returning to the blind Ida Lupino in a bleak rural landscape, the film’s evocation of the paralyzing angst of modern life could not be evaded. Alienated protagonists continued to populate Ray’s films in the early 1950s, with Robert Mitchum playing an ex-rodeo star searching for home and security in “The Lusty Men” (1952), and Joan Crawford as an embattled saloon owner in the uniquely baroque, female-dominated Western, “Johnny Guitar” (1954). Ray next directed his most famous picture, “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), a social drama that depicted the plight of disaffected teenagers that featured exemplary performances from its young cast, most notably stars James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. It was with “Rebel” that Ray’s allegiance with the marginalized was most evident and most sympathetic, as the teenagers in the story are at the mercy of a society that demands conformity and saps individuality. The film focused on 17-year-old Jim Stark (Dean), newly arrived in Los Angeles with his parents, a father (Jim Backus) whose moral strength he questions, and a mother (Ann Doran) who fights constantly with his father. Stark runs afoul with a high school bully (Corey Allen) while befriending a younger, equally disaffected student (Mineo) and falling for the bully’s main squeeze (Wood). Ray’s iconic film was release just two months after Dean’s sudden death in 1955, which in part explained its huge commercial success. But regardless of the tragedy surrounding it, “Rebel Without a Cause” gave birth to the idea of teen angst while proving to be inspirational to generations of filmmakers that followed. Ray went on to direct “Bigger Than Life” (1956), in which James Mason plays a teacher whose addiction to cortisone leads to neuroses that foreground a number of the era’s dominant concerns – conformity, consumption, education and religion. Another important social drama, “Bigger Than Life,” much like “Rebel,” demonstrated that Ray was one of the few directors to use CinemaScope in an accomplished way, as his time with Frank Lloyd Wright earlier in his life he often credited for his keen sense of space and horizontal line displayed on screen.
While Ray’s films had been largely taken for granted in his native country, the critics of Cahiers du Cinema – progenitors of the French New Wave – embarked upon a concerted process of deification. Meanwhile, he directed “The True Story of Jesse James” (1957) with Robert Wagner in a leading role originally intended for James Dean. His next film, “Party Girl” (1958), once dismissed as lurid, was hailed by French critics for its stylistic and thematic flamboyance and complexity. Ray next directed the bitter drama, “The Savage Innocents” (1960), which was dismissed by critics and showed the effects of his increasing drug and alcohol addiction, but nonetheless proved inspirational enough for Bob Dylan to write “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)” after seeing Anthony Quinn’s leading performance. Because of his increasing personal troubles, Ray’s film output suffered considerably. Needing to make a bundle, he signed on to direct two epics; the first being “King of Kings” (1961), the story of Jesus of Nazareth (Jeffrey Hunter) from birth through his crucifixion and resurrection. Originally panned by critics, “King of Kings” grew in stature over time. Next was “55 Days at Peking” (1963), a historical epic starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven that depicted the Battle of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. But Ray never finished shooting the film after collapsing on set halfway through the production, never to return. In fact, “Peking” turned out to be his last studio film. Ray subsequently abandoned Hollywood and spent time in Europe before returning to the States in the late 1960s to take a job teaching film at New York State University at Binghampton, a job he secured with the help of actor Dennis Hopper, who had had a minor role in “Rebel Without a Cause.” A unique collaborative project with his students resulted, usually known as “You Can’t Go Home Again” (1973), which featured footage of Ray smoking pot with his collaborators. Meanwhile, Ray’s increasingly poor health limited his activities to several cameo appearances in films of other directors, while he himself was the subject of his last directorial effort, in collaboration with Wim Wenders, “Lighting Over Water” (1980), which pointed a camera on the final months of his battle with lung cancer. It was a difficult but fitting epitaph, as the director – like so many of his characters – was shown searching for peace and a sense of place. On June 16, 1979, Ray lost his two-year battle with cancer. He was 67 years old. (tcm.com)