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Rebel Without a Cause

Ray reinvigorated and expanded upon the generational-crisis motif of his earlier works in this Warner Brothers-made, mythical tale of a trio of troubled teens. Jim (James Dean), Plato (Sal Mineo), and Judy (Natalie Wood) meet while in jail, each there for a minor transgression stemming from problems at home. Jim, new to town and at odds with his parents, befriends the outcasts but gets into hot water when he crosses Buzz (Corey Allen), one of Judy’s delinquent “friends.” Jim and Buzz are immediate rivals, but after Buzz has an accident during a game of chicken, his friends latch onto the idea that Jim had something to do with it, setting up a showdown at Los Angeles’ famed Griffith Observatory. Featuring beautiful Cinemascope lensing by Ernest Haller, an unsettling score by Leonard Rosenman, and the nexus of the expansive myth of James Dean following his death just before the film was released, Ray’s film remains a American masterpiece of the era.

Genres: Drama

Other Films by Nicholas Ray

Johnny Guitar

Widely cited as an allegory for the anti-Communist hearings overseen by the House Un-American Activities Committee that led to the Hollywood blacklist of 1955, Johnny Guitar is one of the fiercest Westerns ever made. Vienna (an unforgettable Joan Crawford), a saloon owner in a small Arizona town, walks a fine line between the conservative townsfolk,

We Can’t Go Home Again

In 1971, Ray, at the invitation of experimental filmmakers Larry Gottheim and Ken Jacobs, took a teaching post at SUNY Binghamton in the fledgling film production department. The major project to come out of the period is this film, an experimental meta-narrative centering on a teacher (Ray) and his students (played by his real-life students),

Lightning Over Water

Ray, dying of cancer, fought hard to make this last film, a document of his final days in New York City. Wenders, by then a close friend of Ray’s, comes to New York after being on location shooting a noir in Los Angeles. What follows is Ray, with Wenders’ tender assistance, reminiscing about his life

King of Kings

King of Kings, Ray’s second film for MGM, is truly his “epic” (featuring narration by Orson Welles!), a lavish historical ensemble drama chronicling the life of Jesus Christ (Jeffrey Hunter), but still very much a Ray film in its intimate focus on individual crises. The film’s main temporal focus is the lead-up to Jesus’ crucifixion,

Party Girl

A latter-day mob tale made for glamorous MGM—ironic, at that most softboiled of studios—Ray follows the gritty gangster classics of the 1930s by crafting the center of Party Girl’s story on mafia lawyer Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor), who has a sterling record defending crooks and murderers. Farrell, in the course of his work for archetypal