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Rebel Without A Cause

It's the classic tale of teen angst, starring Fifites bad-/pretty-boy James Dean. Rebel Without A Cause is set in a nameless town, but it's recognizably Los Angeles. Most notable are the scenes set at the famous landmark, Griffith Observatory, located high above the sprawling city in the hills near the Hollywood sign.

Jim, Dean's character, is new in town, angry and disenchanted with his overbearing mother and brow-beaten father. He's already been picked up for wandering the streets drunk, and tension starts to build during a school trip, as an auditorium of bored teens listens to a lecture about the end of the world. The words of the lecturer suggest the movie will not end well: 'In all the immensity of our universe and the galaxies beyond, the Earth will not be missed. Through the infinite reaches of space, the problems of man seem trivial and naive indeed. And man, existing alone, seems himself an episode of little consequence.'

The best chance to see the Observatory comes in the next scene, a knife fight between Jim and gang leader Buzz, shot on a ledge overlooking the city. (The film was shot first in black-and-white then again in color, when the studio insisted on a reshoot, and so the fight (apparently using real switchblades) was filmed twice too.) The characters return to the site again, at night, for the painful final scenes. A commentary on humanity's insignificance? Or just a great backdrop?

The Observatory recently underwent a major makeover (and is once again open to the public), but its design remains the same today as it did then. The only differences? Far more houses among the trees, and a bust of James Dean in front of the white-domed building. It's hard to approach the Observatory without thinking of Dean, so, if you haven't seen the movie, rent it before you go, and find out what all the fuss was about.

Rebel is also a great chance to see images of LA's streets fifty years ago. High school scenes were shot at Santa Monica High School, and the mansion Dean and Natalie Wood pretend to buy was (before demolition two years later) at 641 Irving Boulevard. – Roshan McArthur

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