James Dean got angry when Nicholas Ray stopped the knife fight scene after noticing that Dean had been cut on the ear and was bleeding. Dean said, "Don't you ever cut a scene while I'm having a real moment."
James Dean died on September 30, 1955, nearly a month before this film was released on October 27, 1955.
The opening scene in the movie with Jim Stark and the toy monkey was improvised by James Dean after the production had been shooting for nearly 24 hours straight. He asked Nicholas Ray to roll the camera, that he wanted to do something. Ray obliged and the improvisation went on to become the famous opening scene.
The empty pool in which the characters sit and discuss their lives first appeared in Sunset Blvd. (1950). The pool had been built specially for the earlier film, as a condition of renting the site from its owner, Mrs J. Paul Getty.
All three lead actors--James Dean, Sal Mineo--and Natalie Wood, died prematurely under tragic circumstances; Dean died in an automobile accident in September 1955, Mineo was stabbed to death on February 12, 1976, and Wood drowned in the late autumn of 1981. In addition, Edward Platt died by suicide in 1974 and Dennis Hopper fell ill suddenly in the fall of 2009 and died five months later.
Jim Backus, who played James Dean's father and was the voice of Mr. Magoo, taught Dean how to do the Mr. Magoo voice, which Dean then used to deliver the line, "Drown them like puppies."
The whole film takes place over 24 hours. The opening scene in the police station takes place around 3:00 a.m. The ending scene takes place around 3:00 a.m. the next morning.
Natalie Wood was first considered too young for the role of Judy. Even though she was the same age as the character, she was at least 5 years younger than all the other candidates except Margaret O'Brien. She adopted a mature woman's hairstyle, started wearing heavy eye makeup and eventually attracted the notice of director Nicholas Ray, 43, who began an affair with the 16-year-old and gave her the part.
The part where Jim and Judy find Plato wearing one blue sock and one red sock was not scripted. Sal Mineo actually put them on that way by mistake.
Originally in the beginning of the movie, there was a gang beating up a father, who drops a toy on the sidewalk. The studio thought it was too violent, so it was cut. Jim Stark can be seen playing with the toy after he finds it on the ground during the opening credits.
James Dean later confessed that the film "used me up. I could never take so much out of myself again."
James Dean, Natalie Wood, Nick Adams and Sal Mineo were an inseparable foursome while filming.
James Dean was injured several times while shooting the switchblade fight, during which a real weapon was used.
In his article "Dangerous Talents," published in "Vanity Fair" in March 2005, Sam Kashner writes that director Nicholas Ray, screenwriter Stewart Stern, costar James Dean and Sal Mineo himself all intended for Mineo's character Plato to be subtly but definitely understood as gay. Kashner says that although the Production Code was still very much in force and forbade any mention of homosexuality, Ray, Dean, Mineo and Stern all worked together to insert restrained references to Plato's homosexuality and attraction to Jim, including the pinup photo of Alan Ladd on Plato's locker door, Plato's adoring looks at Jim, his loaded talk with Jim in the old mansion and even the name "Plato," named after the classical Greek philosopher Plato, who scholars generally agree was homosexual. For that mansion scene, Dean suggested to Mineo that Plato should "look at me the way I look at Natalie." It can be argued, therefore, that Sal Mineo was the first person nominated for an Oscar for playing an LGBT character, having received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the film.
Although playing a teenager, James Dean was actually 24 when the movie was filmed. Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, however, were of the right age.
Realizing the actor's power to touch youthful audiences, Nicholas Ray gave James Dean free reign to improvise his scenes. The cast often took its cues not from Ray but from the Method-entranced Dean.
Frank Mazzola, who plays "Crunch" in the film, was an actual street gang member when he was a student at Hollywood High School. He was a member of a gang called "The Athenians." As such, he served as a technical advisor to director Nicholas Ray and coached other actors as to street gang attitudes and mannerisms.
The living room of the Starks' house was based on Nicholas Ray's bungalow (he did something similar for In a Lonely Place (1950)). James Dean and other cast members would rehearse there, and Dean felt most comfortable there. It was Dean's idea for Jim to be placed between his parents during the climactic fight scene, to reflect his inner turmoil.
Originally based on a non-fiction work by Dr. Robert M. Lindner, about the hypno-analysis of a young criminal. Producer Jerry Wald intended to make a film of the work and commissioned several scripts, including one by Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), and Marlon Brando was set to star at one point, but the project was eventually shelved. When the studio bought Nicholas Ray's treatment "The Blind Run" it asked him to use the title of Lindner's work, but the film doesn't include anything else from the book.
Dennis Hopper and Natalie Wood had a brief relationship during filming. Wood also had an affair with Nicholas Ray, which was scandalous due to the fact that she was only 16 while he was 43 and older than her father. Even more scandalous, as revealed by informed sources to Vanity Fair magazine in 2005, Ray also had an affair with Sal Mineo.
Ann Doran said, "Jimmy [James Dean] did most of the directing. He gave us our lines; he dominated the entire thing." Dean's and Nicholas Ray's working relationship was equally bizarre. Ray often rehearsed with Dean at his Chateau Marmont bungalow, and felt the energy between them there was so powerful that he actually recreated his own living room on the set to inspire Dean. Doran also recalled, "Jimmy was a strange boy. On the first day, Jim Backus couldn't believe it. We were watching Jimmy doing his scene and someone had said, 'Quiet, we're going to shoot now.' And they got up speed and were ready for action. Jimmy went down on the floor in the fetal position for the longest time. It seemed like half a can of film . . . and Nick said, 'Action.' Jimmy stood up and went into the scene . . . [Jim and I] had never seen this "Method" of doing things. Nick seemed to be mesmerized by Jimmy".
Director Nicholas Ray researched L.A. gangs by riding around with them for several nights.
Marlon Brando filmed a screen test in New York City for an earlier, eventually abandoned, version of the film in 1947 on a break in rehearsals for the original Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire".
The movie was originally to be shot in black and white, and some scenes had already been filmed that way, when the studio decided to switch to color. The official explanation at the time was that Twentieth Century-Fox, which owned the wide-screen CinemaScope process, had ordered that all films shot in the process had to be in color, but some also believe that Warners ordered the switch to head off comparisons with Blackboard Jungle (1955) and because James Dean's increasing popularity gave the film more prestige. Another film MGM's Trial (1955) was also slated to be shot at the same time in black and white CinemaScope. Due to the same demand it skipped that process and shot in standard widescreen black and white instead.
The writing credits for the film are as follows: Stewart Stern (screenplay), Nicholas Ray (story) and Irving Shulman (adaptation). In an interview published in "Michigan Quarterly Review" in 1999, Stern claims that he had never even seen "The Blind Run", the treatment for "Rebel" supposedly written by Ray. He said he was shocked when he learned that the director wanted to take sole story credit, as there had not been an actual story before he started writing the script. Stern admits that both Ray and Shulman had contributed to the story, and he believes that the credit should have been divided between the three of them. Later, the film received an Oscar nomination for the story alone, with only Ray being nominated for writing.
When the crew began night shooting at the Griffith Park Planetarium in Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles residents saw the bright production lights in the hills and flooded switchboards with reports of raging forest fires.
Soon after the premiere of East of Eden (1955), it became clear that James Dean had achieved star status. Modern sources speculate that, because of his new box-office appeal and the growing success of teenage rebel movies, Warners decided to "upgrade" this film, budgeting it more money and production time and ordering that it be filmed in color. One supporting gang member's character was excised and sequences depicting the teenage gang were also cut from the script, resulting in the loss of the individual personalities in the group. Modern sources suggest that the cuts were made to give Dean more screen time.
In 2007 the movie's line "You're tearing me apart" was voted as the #97 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere magazine.
James Dean badly bruised his hand during the police station scene where he physically vents his rage on a precinct desk and had to wear an elastic bandage for a week.
Jim Stark was actually first intended to be more of a nerd, wearing a brown jacket and glasses. However, when Warner Bros. told director Nicholas Ray to re-shoot in color, Ray, as well as costumer Moss Mabry, wanted him to wear red.
The arguments Hopper and Ray had over their affairs with Natalie Wood resulted in most of Hopper's lines being cut. Ray wanted him fired but his contract with Warner Bros wouldn't allow it.
When Jim, Judy and Plato are exploring the empty mansion, the candles in the candelabra Plato carries were lit by a wire that ran through Sal Mineo's jacket.
James Dean originally wanted his friend Jack Simmons, whom he was living with at the time, for the part of Plato.
The switchblade that James Dean used in the fight scene at Griffith Observatory was offered at auction on September 30, 2015, by Profiles in History with an estimated value of $12,000-$15,000, with a winning bid of $12,000. Also offered at the same auction were production photographs and a final shooting script dated August 17, 1955, for a behind-the-scenes television promotional film titled "Behind the Cameras: Rebel Without a Cause" hosted by Gig Young and that had scripted interviews and staged footage by the cast and crew (the script sold for $225).
Before the camera rolled, Nicholas Ray went to concerted efforts to get to know James Dean. Ray visited Dean's New York stomping grounds to get a feel for his life. Ray said, "I wanted to find out all about this guy. I ran around with him, and met his friends, got drunk a couple of times and we were pretty close by the time we were ready to go to work. Whatever else Jimmy was, he was a searcher, ever on the lookout for some trick or other he could store up and use. I could see him soaking them up and I knew he had to play that part, because he could do it like no one else I knew."
The 1949 Mercury coupe James Dean drove in the movie is part of the permanent collection at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, NV.
In Gilligan's Island: Castaways Pictures Presents (1965), Thurston Howell III cries out, "Method actors! Never again!" as he directs the castaways in film production. This may be an inside joke in reference to James Dean. Jim Backus played Frank Stark in this film and had scenes with Dean that turned physical as a result of Dean's legendary and infamous spontaneous method acting style.
The only film of the three starring James Dean not to be a period piece. The other two are East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956).
Nicholas Ray claimed that he wanted the film to work beyond the juvenile delinquency newspaper headlines and films of the day, like The Wild One (1953). Instead, Ray strove for a classical tone, and claimed Romeo and Juliet as inspiration, "the best play written about 'juvenile delinquents.'" Ray said.
The decision to shoot the film in color meant less pay for extras, which is why there were so few of them in the knife fight scene.
The film was conceived as a black-and-white "B" picture, and several scenes, particularly at Griffith Observatory, were shot only in black and white and never used. In some of the black-and-white footage, James Dean appears wearing eyeglasses. Another scene shot in black and white shows a large group of teenagers on the driveway behind the observatory; when the scene was later shot in color, few extras were retained, leaving only a handful of teenagers to taunt Jim. The alternate opening and ending scenes were also shot in black and white.
Margaret O'Brien tested for the role of Judy but was rejected by Nicholas Ray after he described her answers to his probing questions as "too pat." Jayne Mansfield also tested but Ray declined to film her audition, considering her "an hallucination" from the Warners casting department.
When Jim's father comes into his room before the chickie-run, Dean gets out of bed and removes his tee shirt. on the left side of the screen are B&W photos of racing cars, the most prominent being one that looks very much like the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder that Dean would die in on his way to a racing event he was included in with that car.
The red jacket worn by James Dean was obtained in the early 1960s by American avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger and sent to the museum collection in Paris of the French Cinematheque, which had been helpful in showing and promoting his own work.But in 1972 the jacket was stolen.
Based on the strong sneak preview response to the film, Warner Bros. proposed a long-term contract for James Dean.
According to a biography of Natalie Wood, she almost did not get the role of Judy because director Nicholas Ray thought that she did not fit the role of the wild teen character. While on a night out with friends, she got into a car accident. Upon hearing this, Ray rushed to the hospital. While in delirium, Wood overheard the doctor murmuring and calling her a "goddamn juvenile delinquent"; she soon yelled to Ray, "Did you hear what he called me, Nick?! He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! NOW do I get the part?!"
Some of the earlier drafts for the movie had the three main kids named Jim, Eve and Demo. Demo was later changed to a 13-year-old boy named The Professor.
This film was selected into the National Film Registry in 1990 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"
James Dean did not get malaria during filming, as some have reported. Nick Adams had a relapse of an old case of malaria he got while he was a merchant marine.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
Among the actors who tested for roles in this film were Margaret O'Brien, Tab Hunter, Carroll Baker, Bobby Driscoll, Richard Beymer, Susan Strasberg, Johnny Sheffield, Peggy Ann Garner, Russ Tamblyn, Claude Jarman Jr. and Anthony Perkins.
In the police station scene, while the adults are talking to the cop, Jim keeps humming Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", a classical piece known to audiences because of its memorable use in Apocalypse Now (1979). Dennis Hopper appears in both films.
James Dean's character's surname "Stark" is an anagram of "Trask", the surname of his character in East of Eden (1955).
Hume Cronyn, John Dehner, Rod Cameron, Walter Matthau and Raymond Burr were considered for Jim's father.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Ruth Hussey, Maureen Stapleton, Jeanette Nolan, Barbara Billingsley and Adele Jergens were considered for either Judy's or Plato's mother.
James Whitmore, Peter Gray, Richard Crane, George Reeves and Walter Reed were considered for the role of Ray Fremeck, eventually played by Edward Platt.
Jim Stark was so new to the neighborhood he did not even know how to get to school. Yet at the Griffith Park Observatory he parked his car in a spot at a bottom of a very steep rise alongside the long building that cannot even be seen from the road in front of the Observatory.
Originally, the opening scene with James Dean lying on the ground next to the toy monkey was longer. Also included, was footage of a group of people driving away after enjoying their evening, failing to notice Dean.
Just before filming began on one of the screen tests, a fistfight nearly resulted between two of the cast (also known as real street gang members) off-camera. As a result, the screen test shows the different actors all shaking hands with each other, reducing the tension.