We dive back into the Far Out Magazine vault to explore a story of ‘what could have been’ starring Marlon Brando and iconic 1955 film Rebel Without A Cause.
While the final 1955 film is famous for its eventual lead star James Dean, Warner Brothers had initially started working on Rebel Without A Cause years earlier, in 1947, when they purchased the rights to Lindner’s book.
Getting pre-production underway, Brando stepped in to create a five-minute screen-test as the studio got to work on completing the script. However, it was later asserted that, despite being given sections of the script, Brando was not auditioning for the film and he did not receive an offer from the production company.
In the end, the project was abruptly scrapped by the studio and abandoned for eight years before being revitalised by director Ray. The first script was binned, and a new, fresh take was financed, one which ultimately saw James Dean step in for the lead.
Bosley Crowther, writing in The New York Times following the film’s release, initially criticised James Dean’s performance, saying: “Never have we seen a performer so clearly follow another’s style,” while in the same breath claiming Dean had copied Brando’s style.
In contrasting opinion, Robert J.Landry, managing editor of Variety, suggested that Dean had performed “very effectively” in shaking off the mannerisms of Brando.
Either way, the end result would have been hugely different had Brando eventually taken up the role ahead of Dean. Here, we revisit some rare footage of Brando’s initial approach to Rebel Without A Cause.
Speaking about the sudden change of the film production, former LA Times film critic Sheila Benson—who studied acting with James Dean—said: “Whoa, what a change this character went through: Brando to Dean, man to teenager,” after the studio swapped the lead.
However, when asked directly about whether or not Brando was realistically considered for the role, screenwriter Stewart Stern abruptly answered “no” while in conversation with THR. “It’s oranges and apples,” Stern added.
“I heard that there was a test that Marlon did, but Nick had no interest in that.”
Benson added: “Screen tests are usually such awful indicators of…anything,” in reflection. “But it’s so interesting to see in this one how well theatre-trained Brando adapted to the small shifts in emotion that a camera could pick up. He lets it see his thoughts change, as his mind does, and he gives it time, he doesn’t rush.
“The funniest thing is after the scene, as Brando is asked about his stage experience. Check out that quick roll of his eyes when he says he was in Eagle Rampant with (his eyes go upward) the voracious Tallulah Bankhead. Volumes.”