In some ways, calling this collection James Dean: The Rare Movies
is a little misleading. After all, the "all-purpose delinquent"--as described in David Dalton's fascinating booklet notes--made only three feature films and, in true iconic style, died a youthful, violent death. Yet the collection works somewhat on an ironic level. The 1950s was a decade in which television established itself as the biggest threat to the cinematic medium, and this is a selection of some of the television dramas and commercials that Dean made on his way up to Hollywood stardom, presented with the same introductions and sponsors' messages of the original transmissions.
So how good was he at the beginning? All the raw material was there: the restless misfit, the damaged juvenile and the complex punk. In 1954's "I am a Fool" he stars with Natalie Wood in what turned out to be a rehearsal for Rebel Without a Cause on the big screen. At times he moves with an almost balletic grace, at others he twitches with that awkwardness that still leaves new generations of fans totally enthralled. Television was never going to contain him. This is like watching history in the making and is all the more compelling because we know the tragedy that lay but a short way ahead.
On the DVD: It scarcely matters that these television dramas and commercials are presented in 4:3 format. The picture quality is inevitably poor and the sound rough, sometimes to the point of inaudibility. Made in television's explosive adolescence, they were never intended to be monuments to technological brilliance. We're just lucky they've survived at all. The track selection offers a maze-like array of choices for you to skip between films, introductions and commercial breaks and occasionally this can be confusing. A chronology on the DVD itself would have helped.--Piers Ford
Before James Dean hit Hollywood he made over 40 appearances on US TV between 1951 and 1953, from a Pepsi advertisement, TV shows through to a Highway Safety appeal. Some of these are collected on this DVD along with 3 TV movies in which he appeared: 'Something for an Empty Briefcase' (1953) in which Dean plays a small-time thief who is rescued by a dancer, Susan Douglas; 'The Unlighted Road' (1955) was Dean's last TV role and he plays a hitchhiker who gets caught up in a corrupt world and narrowly escapes a murder trial; and 'I Am a Fool' (1954) which co-stars Natalie Wood and is the tale of a poor boy in love with a rich girl. Also included is racing footage of Dean and out-takes from 'East of Eden'.