Rebel Without a Cause lands on just about every list of the Greatest Movies Of All Time. The story of three outcast teenagers finding love and friendship they all so desperately crave still tugs at the heartstrings 66 years after release, and also enjoys iconic status thanks to the presence of actor James Dean. That said, we have to wonder: does a general audience realize just how gay the movie is?
The plot follows three juvenile delinquents: Jim (Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo), as they bond over their problems at home and inability to cope with the pressures of young adulthood. Judy’s boyfriend Buzz, suspicious of Jim, challenges him to an auto race. When the race turns deadly, Jim, Judy and Plato set off on the run together, fearful of the consequences.
The film, of course, features two drop-dead handsome leads in the form of Dean and Mineo, both of whom were queer in real life. The movie also drops more than a few clues that Mineo’s character Plato–the slightly-effeminate, love-starved nerd–is gay as well, and that his connection with Dean’s Jim goes much deeper than the platonic (excuse the pun). Screenwriter Stewart Stern in later interviews confirmed Plato’s sexuality and expressed one regret: he wished that he would have made it even more obvious that Plato was an outcast because he was gay.
As the mother of all delinquent teenager movies, Rebel Without a Cause has had a lasting influence on style, American culture, and the movies from Easy Rider to Do The Right Thing to Kids. The movie also carries with it an unfortunate onus, as Dean, Wood and Mineo all died young, the latter in an anti-gay hate crime. We recommend watching it in tribute to its three leads, as a window into movie history, and as an example of Hollywood’s early treatment of LGBTQ characters.
Streams on HBO Max, YouTube, iTunes & VUDU.