Great Dean History, Poor DVD Reproduction
MarkeN | Portland, Oregon United States | 09/23/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a surprisingly good collection of the early, and post-death, works of or about James Dean. 2 discs: 3 films, 1 documentary, 1 bio-pic. The quality of the films range from sub-standard, kinescope, not digitally cleaned up, to pretty good, considering the cost, packaging, price. What I find distressing, is that after going through 3 copies [not bought from Amazon, but a local retailer], the same defect happens, in roughly the same spot, on the newer "bio-pic" [1975, color]. Disolving into digital garbage, it eventually seizes my player, then stops altogether.
That said, what I was able to view was rather remarkable, even for Dean. Taken chronologically, they are...
The fairly remarkable religiously produced/themed, relatively star-studed "Hill Number One" which tells the story of the resurrection of Christ. Dean plays John, the Apostle, and doesn't mumble his lines. We've heard/read this story all throughout our lives, but this 57 minute, 1951 film, brought it back to life. Among his co-stars are Michael Ansara & Roddy McDowell.
1953's "The Bells of Cockaigne" would today be akin to a sub-par Hallmark film. Moralistic & working class in tone, it is saved by the "to the bone" performance of Gene Lockhart, a crusty Irishman with a heart of gold, who befriends Dean & his wife in a most profound gesture of generosity.
A real find is had in the 1954 "I Am a Fool." Extremely low production piece that is valuable for the pre-Rebel pairing with Natalie Wood. The production & sets are obviously makeshift, but the result, and reward, is one focuses on the story more than the flaws. This was actually originally broadcast, live, prior to Rebel, but rerun after his death. Ronald Reagan introduces the re-run, Eddie Albert is host/narrator.
Robert Altman's early-documentary-style "The James Dean Story" from 1957 is quite possibly the least rewarding or compelling, & most difficult to watch. It is haphazardly cut together of many pre-existing reels, photos, stories, interviews and the like, ultimately not shedding any new life, or light, on the subject at hand, except to point up his fascination with the story of "The Little Prince." Not total loss, but close. What is totally dismissable, especially since the release of the box set of his three landmark films, is the so-called bonus that is, like the Altman piece, haphazardly strung together trailers & teasers.
What I found most rewarding was the 1975 bio-pic "James Dean," written by a former roommate, starring Stephen McHattie as Dean, and an impressive roster of others very early in their respective careers [Katherine Helmond, Amy Irving, Meg Foster, Brooke Adams]. This shed much more light on the myth, and even some of the rumors. Unfortuanately, the disc has some digital problem, making it impossible to view the entire story from start to finish. Hopefully this will be corrected, as I really want to own this collection."