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James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

9 Nov, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

$99.98 7-disc BD/DVD set
Standalone movie Blu-rays $27.98 each, NR.
Stars James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock
Hudson, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Dennis Hopper, Julie Harris.

On Sept. 30, 1955, budding screen idol James Dean was killed driving his new (and rare) Porsche 550 Spyder sports car to a race in Salinas, Calif. He was just 24.

The accident ended a scant career that included just three Warner Bros. feature films: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant — the latter two not yet released at the time of Dean’s passing.

Dean’s combination of on-screen emotional self-awareness, unflappable good looks and untimely death contributed to a mystique that Warner — 58 years later — skillfully captures in the seven-disc James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition.

In addition to 4K restorations of his three movies, myriad bonus material, including a picture book, publicity stills, memos, notes and wardrobe tests, Warner redid the Rebel soundtrack from magnetic soundtrack stripes of Cinemascope release prints.

Watching Dean’s teenage roles in Eden, based on John Steinbeck’s same-titled novel, Rebel Without a Cause, and as a young ranch hand in Giant, one can see the impact the death of Dean’s mother when he was just 9-years-old had on his work.

In Eden, Dean plays younger son Cal, who is looking for the mother who abandoned him. As only son Jim in Rebel, Dean is trying to redeem an emasculated father, played by fture “Gilligan Island” star Jim Backus; and as Jett in Giant, Dean seeks the respect of his peers.

Dean’s sense and sensibilities in his roles lend some speculation that his death played a key role in the career of Paul Newman. Indeed, Dean beat out Newman for the Eden role. Warner, which had signed Dean to a 10-movie, $1 million contract at the conclusion of Giant, thereafter cast Newman in Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Left Handed Gun — films that catapulted Newman’s career.

Besides the movies, what stands out in the boxed set is the extensive research and reflections put forth in several documentaries on Dean’s persona, including 1974 TV special James Dean Remembered, Forever James Dean (1987), James Dean: Forever Young (1995) and American Masters: James Dean — Sense Memories (2005), among others.

In one doc, the late Dennis Hopper recollects his time around Dean and working under contract at Warner. In the TV special, Sammy Davis Jr. remembers inviting Dean to a party in Los Angeles where his idol, Marlon Brando, also was invited. Dean, who arrived dressed as a biker to impress Brando, was instead ignored by the suit-and-tie-attired actor.

“He was a cool cat,” Davis said of Dean.

An interesting addition to the boxed set is the DVD George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (1984). Made by the Giant director’s son, the 112-minute doc expertly captures the elder’s profession — a diverse career that included directing A Place in the Sun (with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift), Shane (Alan Ladd) and The Diary of Anne Frank (Millie Perkins and Shelly Winters).

Stevens, who was known for micromanaging his actors, had the nonplussed Dean in one scene walk off an acre of land. In the classic wide shot, Dean angrily paces the property in large steps to a water tower, which he then climbs to a landing on top. With Jett’s tract about to strike oil, elevating him in status and wealth, Stevens had just filmed one of Giant’s most memorable preludes.

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