Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

In 1955, the public wasn’t worried about gangbangers with AKs; “juvenile delinquents” with switchblades were the media-driven worry. So, when director Nicholas Ray set about making his iconic teen psychodrama, “Rebel Without a Cause,” a knife fight was pretty much a requirement. This scene – one of several in the film shot at Los Angeles’s Griffith Observatory – is a template for a million blade battles to follow. With James Dean as a teenage loner who “doesn’t want any trouble” but who can’t bear being called a “chicken,” pitted against a none-too-bright youthful thug (Corey Allen) and a crowd of toughs that includes a very young Dennis Hopper, this is a moment of adolescent theatrics gone out of control. While Sal Mineo as Dean’s (very) worshipful pal and 16-year-old Natalie Wood as his future girlfriend look on helplessly, the scene manages to be exciting, suspenseful and a little disturbing, without even a speck of onscreen blood. Fight choreography is one thing, but there’s nothing like good acting to sell a knife fight. We know that Allen really wants to slash Dean to ribbons, and we can see the fear and the resolution in Dean’s eyes.

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