Released a year-and-a-half after Rebel Without a Cause, John Frankenheimer's delinquent youth drama The Young Stranger is filled with echoes from the iconic James Dean film. Here, high school student Hal Ditmar (played with a passionate intensity by James MacArthur) is blamed for something he didn't do: assaulting the manager of a local movie theater. Claiming the act was self defense (which it was), MacArthur spends most of the movie trying to convince the other characters of this truth, namely his father who is a wealthy film producer, played by James Daly. The only one who seems to believe in him (albeit not without a layer of doubt) is his mother, played by acclaimed actress Kim Hunter in a subdued role compared to the more powerhouse performances in her remarkable repertoire of work. This is a simple film in that it features a small cast telling a straight forward story that takes place in only a handful of locations. Certainly a precursor to the ABC Afterschool Specials that would follow a couple of decades later, The Young Stranger is not so much a cautionary tale as it is an exploration of a young man seeking love and validation from those around him, especially his father. It is MacArthur who brings a beautiful complexity to this film. His performance is filled with an authentic anguish, allowing the audience to understand and recognize his need for acceptance and love.
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