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“The Complete James Dean Collection“
Reviewed by: Wayne A. Klein
Genre: Drama
Video: 2.35:1, 1.66:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
Languages English, French
Subtitles English, French, Spanish
Length 433 minutes
Rating G/PG
Release Date 5/31/05
Studio Warner Home Video
Commentary: “East of Eden” features film historian/critic Richard Schickel; “Giant” features critic Stephen Farber, screenwriter Ivan Moffat and George Stevens Jr., “Rebel” features Douglas Rathgeb author of “The Making of Rebel Without a Cause”
Documentaries: “James Dean Remembered”, “Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents”, “Memories of Giant”, “Return to Giant”, “George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him”,“East of Eden: Art in Search of Life”
Featurettes: “Hollywood Premiere”,”Behind the Camera”, “New York Premiere TV Special”, “Warner Brothers Presents” for both “Rebel” and “Giant”
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical trailers
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Deleted scenes (without sound)
Music Video: None
Other: “Director Filmography”, “Award Notes” “Production Notes”, “New York Premiere”, “Introduction by George Stevens Jr.”(“Giant”), Stills and Documents Galleries, “Drive Safely TV Commercial” featuring James Dean”, Screen Tests, Wardrobe Tests, “3/19/55 Premiere Footage for “East of Eden”
Cast and Crew: James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Carroll Baker, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, Jim Backus, Raymond Massey, Burl Ives, Julie Harris, Jo Ann Fleet, Richard Davalos
Written By: Fred Guiol & Ivan Moffat; Stewart Stern, Paul Osborn
Produced By: George Stevens and Henry Ginsberg, David Weisbart
Directed By: George Stevens, Nicholas Ray, Eliza Kazan
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin, Leonard Rosenman
The Review:

The Eagles wrote a song about him. Blondie described James Dean’s fate in one of their song titles, “Die Young, Stay Pretty”. The brooding icon of the 50’s continues to amaze, fascinate and captivate audiences 50 years on with his intense performances and charisma. It’s easy to see why when you watch the three films Dean completed before his death. Critics tend to punish great actors who live past their prime by belittling their later performances and reassessing how great they could be. It happened to the magnificent Marlon Brando and currently Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are in the crosshairs. James Dean escaped this fate by colliding with death on a dark highway and dying in a car accident after only completing three movies. Warner Brothers Home Video has collected all three in this deluxe boxed set. While all three are available separately (and “Giant” was available previously on DVD), this set is the cost effective way to go for all three films. ***

While all three are classics, the real gem here is “East of Eden” which has been unavailable in any format for a decade. Adapted from John Steinbeck’s sprawling novel, Elia Kazan condenses Steinbeck’s retelling of the Cain and Abel story into a compact movie that plays just under two hours. While much was lost from the story, Steinbeck’s essential conflict and drama continues to drive the film. Dean plays Cal a brooding, uncertain and conflicted young man living in Salins Valley who fights for the affection of his father (Raymond Massey) with his twin brother Aaron (Richard Davalos). It’s a complex, intense and powerful movie that features Dean’s debut as a star. When Cal discovers that his mother (Jo Ann Fleet in her Oscar winning performance) who abandoned he and his brother when they were babies is still alive and the owner of a brothel in nearby Monterey, he tries to reestablish contact with a part of his life that vanished nearly a decade and a half before. ***

Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause” receives a much deserved upgrade from the single disc DVD edition previously released. Dean’s second starring role probably remains his best remembered. Dean plays tortured youth James Stark a new kid in town Stark hangs out with other disaffected youths including Judy (Natalie Wood), Plato (Sal Mineo) and other kids that fel they have no communication of a meaningful sort with their parents. Premiering one month after Dean’s death, “Rebel” cemented both his status as a top notch method actor and an icon. ***

“Giant” based on Edna Ferber’s novel is a larger-than-life is a flawed masterpiece but one nevertheless. George Stevens’ film tells the story of Texas rancher Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) and Jett Rink (Dean). The three characters and their strange rivalry drives the film. Benedict may have married Leslie but the poor Rink fascinates her. The film follows Rink as he rises to become a wealthy oil man and a hollow soul who loses his sense of self in the pursuit of his dreams to try and better himself. Dean’s last role isn’t his best or richest. Although he seems to have a handle on the character of Rink early on as the character ages, his performance becomes less convincing. ---

Image and Sound: Sporting a beautiful transfer, “East of Eden” looks marvelous. While it doesn’t look quite as impressive as “Giant” or even “Rebel”, the colors are still relatively rich and the image vibrant. The flesh tones are a bit pasty for my taste but that’s a minor complaint. The film wasn’t designed with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound in mind and while it sounds good, the format isn’t used to its best advantage. “Giant” looks the best of the three with bright, vivid colors and sharp images but this is the same widescreen transfer (non-anamorphic) in 1.66:1 that appeared on the previous Digipak release from a couple of years ago. The sound has vitality despite the age of the film. “Rebel” likewise looks exceptionally good. I love the look of old Technicolor films they have a color saturation that adds richness to the films.
The Extras:

“East of Eden” comes packed with an exceptional documentary “East of Eden: Art in Search of Life” as well as the vintage documentary “Forever James Dean”. The former has the advantage of the candor of those being interviewed since it’s fifty years after the initial release. We also get deleted scenes, screen tests, wardrobe, costume and production design tests. The original 1955 premiere footage is also included which features appearances by Raymond Massey (who hated Dean during the shoot and director Kazan encouraged their difficulties believing it added fire to their combustible performance) and author John Steinbeck himself. ***

“Giant” features the documentaries “George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him” a vintage piece that’s actually quite good at pointing out Stevens’ strengths as a film director. “Memories of Giant” and “Return to Giant” are also quite good giving considerable background on the production (we find out here, for example, that Dean and Hudson also couldn’t stand each other. Perhaps it was that Dean’s acting upstaged the rather stoic Hudson). There’s also two “Warner Brothers Presents” featurettes on the making of the movie. Photo galleries, extensive production notesand an introduction by Stevens’ son George Stevens Jr rounds out this fine 2 disc set. ***

“Rebel” features the original extras from the single disc issued a couple of years back. New to this edition are three segments from the “Warner Brothers Presents” TV series that aired during the 50’s. Dean’s commercial made to promote safe driving is also included. “Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents” is a new 50th anniversary documentary on the making of the movie. There’s also rare screen tests. ---

Commentary:

Film critic and historian Richard Schickel provides a fascinating commentary track. Although it’s a bit dry at times, Schickel tries to provide a context for a modern audience so they can understand why Dean had such a tremendous impact along with Brando during the 50’s. ***

”Giant” benefits from a commentary by George Stevens Jr. who has loads of trivia about the making of this movie and the challenges his father faced in making it. Also, screenwriter Ivan Moffat and critic Stephen Farber chime in on occasion providing additional background and discussion on this epic film. ***

For “Rebel” author Douglas Rathgeb (“The Making of Rebel Without a Cause”) provides a large dose of trivia on the making of the movie. He also discusses the off screen relationship of the actors and Dean’s own approach to the role. There’s plenty of info also on Sal Mineo who starred with Dean in two of his three pictures and Natalie Wood.

Final Words: Featuring newly remastered picture and audio from restored elements all three movies look stunning. Although “Giant” probably looks the best of the three, the other two films “Rebel” and the long out-of-print “East of Eden” haven’t looked this good since the 50’s. The new extras for each set provide hours of background on Dean and the making of these classic films. Although there’s nothing new on the “Giant” DVD (I can’t think of anything else they could have possibility added), there’s plenty of new material on “Rebel” and the new documentaries on the making of “East of Eden” are an example of the high quality extras Warner Home Video continues to put out. It’s a pity that other studios don’t follow the lead of Warner which has continually set the standard and raised the bar when it comes to releasing vintage classis on DVD.

 

 
 
 
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