James Dean’s name continues to carry a resonance that is vastly disproportionate to his actual minutes on screen.
That an actor with just three lead roles to his credit can still exert such an enduring fascination says much about Hollywood mythology-making – and also, perhaps, about our own morbid fixation with his untimely demise.
But just say you approached this collection ignorant of its star’s posthumous standing. What would you see? An actor indebted to that master of the Method Marlon Brando perhaps, easy on the eye and possessed of a live-wire restlessness.
Given director Elia Kazan’s previous work with Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront), it’s hardly surprising his influence is most in evidence in 1955’s East Of Eden, a Steinbeck adap in which Dean’s teary, emotional turn seems actively at odds with the more conventional thesping around him.
Yet it’s there also in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), a portrait of teenage alienation whose climactic howl of frustration (“I got the bullets!”) feels like Dean’s riposte to Brando’s iconic “Stella!” from Streetcar. He too could have been a contender, though not in the likes of Giant (1956), which had Dean acting older than he ever got a chance to in reality.
Even in George Stevens’ overlong soap, though, you’ll see flashes of his magic – magic that, however fleeting, makes this boxset an unignorable proposition. A lavish six-discer, bulked with docs, screen/wardrobe tests, chat tracks and a 48-page photo book.
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