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DVD SAVANT

James Dean
Ultimate Collector's Edition

Savant Blu-ray Review


James Dean Ultimate Collector's Edition
East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant
Blu-ray
Warner Home Video
1955-1956 / Color / Street Date November 5, 2013 / 99.98
Starring James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet;
James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran;
James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson Carroll Baker, Sal Mineo, Chill Wills.
Directed by
Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, George Stevens

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The sentiment, "die young before corruption sets in" certainly applies to James Dean, the golden boy of Method acting that never endured a Hollywood career setback or flop movie. Dean's time in the limelight was so brief that his undying legend almost completely overshadows the films he made. He was recognized as brilliant, worked with three top directors and was then was killed so suddenly that two of his three pictures, all Warners films, were released after his death. Yet those three performances are so lauded that, had he lived, it's easy to believe that he might have become the greatest actor of them all. Dean wasn't around long enough to grow fat and contemptuous of movie stardom as did Marlon Brando, or to fall apart physically and psychologically like Montgomery Clift. His legacy comes with no mysteries or conspiracy-minded legends attached, as happened with Marilyn Monroe. He'll always be Peter Pan, never growing old, communicating such youth and vitality in his films that we can't quite believe he's dead.

Eight years ago Warners' released a boxed DVD set called The Complete James Dean Collection, with plenty of extras. This time around we've got a massive Blu-ray box aimed at Christmas gift giving.


East of Eden
1955 / 2:35 widescreen / 118 min. / (individual price) 27.98
Starring Julie Harris, James Dean, Raymond Massey, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, Jo Van Fleet, Albert Dekker
Cinematography Ted McCord
Art Direction James Basevi, Malcolm Bert
Film Editor Owen Marks
Original Music Leonard Rosenman
Written by Paul Osborn, John Steinbeck from his novel
Produced and Directed by Elia Kazan

California's sleepy Salinas Valley in 1917 harbors big dramas. 'Wild' teenager Cal Trask (James Dean) lives with his widowed father Adam (Raymond Massey) and 'good' brother Aron (Richard Davalos). The inquisitive Cal hears rumors that his mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet) is still alive in Monterey. He hops a train to meet her -- in the house of prostitution that she runs. Seeking redemption in his father's eyes, Cal enters a business partnership with Will Hamilton (Albert Dekker) to profit from the coming war. But nothing turns out as Cal plans, especially when Aron's girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) finds herself drawn to Cal's side.

One of Elia Kazan's best pictures, East of Eden has fine acting and direction that balance the story's tendency toward heavy theatrics. John Steinbeck's novel wears its allegorical purpose out in the open to recreate the original dysfunctional family -- adding levels of human characterization to a few short lines in Genesis. Eve broke away from the Garden of Eden because she couldn't stand being bossed and criticized by the self-righteous Adam, leaving him to raise two emotionally scarred boys. The self-assured Abel questions nothing and is complacent in the knowledge that he's superior to his wild brother Cain. Cain's agony is his awareness of the lost family and his inability to connect with a disapproving father.

That East of Eden doesn't collapse under this Biblical weight is a remarkable feat. It stays intact because its characters struggle with ideas of goodness and badness, aware that the labels they assign to themselves and each other are limiting and deceptive. Aron feels strong but doesn't realize how much he depends on certain assumptions -- the righteousness of his father, the presumed love of Abra. Cal may seem the sensitive innocent but we see plenty of hints that his time away from home is spent misleading the local girls. One or two are always hovering about, and he's far too confident as he tricks the barmaid Anne (the interesting Lois Smith) into leading him to his mother. Abra doubts her own virtue when she realizes she wants something less confining than what Aron has to offer. Even Adam wavers under harsh reminders of his fallibility, and not just the failure of his refrigeration experiment. The terrible draft board job curbs his interest in standing in judgment over people. The uncovering of past secrets deals the final blow to Adam's carefully tended self-image.

The richness of pre- WW1 agricultural California places the tale in a handsome Americana setting, and the richly drawn characters transcend what could easily be a stagey, word-heavy script. Kazan's direction emphasizes the spaces between words, the reaction of characters on the side and the visual context of each situation. When Cal runs out to cry under a tree the camera hangs back to show only his feet under the 'weeping' willows. When Abra joins him, she affirms her shift of loyalty.

East of Eden is the logical precursor to the '50s teen-angst picture. Cal's adult-oriented problems are the center of the story. The censors won't allow Kazan to depict Kate's fallen women, but the nature of her business is abundantly clear. Other indicators of the character of the times are equally realistic. The Salinas residents are largely well-to-do Anglos surrounded by Mexican-American, Italian and 'Portugee' immigrant laborers. The enlistment parade stresses jingoistic xenophobia, when a German-American shoe repairman changes suddenly from a beloved neighbor to a Hun enemy, who 'doesn't feel sorry enough.' Interestingly, it is the idealistic Aron who knows instinctually that the patriotic war parade is essentially wrong -- that its purpose is to mobilize hatred. Father Adam would surely applaud Aron's effort to be peaceful and condemn Cal's leaping into the fray -- even though the only thing that can stop the mob is Sam the Sheriff (Burl Ives).

Bad timing and rash decisions are determining factors. Kate's horror just at the moment of accepting her son is heartbreaking. But the story offers no simple way to assign blame. Cal didn't create the emotional calamity that sends his brother off to war, with his iffy chance for return symbolized by a literal collar of sharp glass. The potential for disaster was already there in the lies of the father, to be ignited by Cal's search for truth and acceptance.

East of Eden has been frequently complimented for its creative use of the relatively new CinemaScope format. Elia Kazan's handles the wide screen emotionally, as opposed to the merely graphic blocking in John Sturges' celebrated Bad Day at Black Rock. The town and landscapes exist as context in the periphery, but Kazan is unafraid to go in for extreme close-ups. He keeps cramped interiors from seeming too spacious by using areas of darkness to mask the frame, as in the corridor to Kate's room. He has no problem stylizing the frame for a purpose, as when he darkens areas of the image for the first shot of the enlistment parade. Only his tilted 'Dutch' angles in some of the emotional dialogue scenes are somewhat forced. There is also a dizzying single shot of Cal swinging where the camera swings with him, which also seems ill advised. Too flashy.

Because East of Eden maintains an emotional temperature several degrees higher than the average film, the intense playing never seems to be "too much." Dean's teenaged mannerisms and adolescent slouching befit a restless kid who can't relax for a minute. Followers of method acting lump Brando, Clift and Dean together, but we never saw enough of Dean's range. His Jett Rink in Giant transforms into a strange proto-Howard Hughes type that isn't all that successful. Yet he's so interesting that it's tempting to believe he'd be transcendent any kind of role. That's something we'll never know.

Top-billed Julie Harris equals Dean for sensitive vulnerability. I haven't seen many female characters in movies successfully change affections from one brother to another, while retaining our respect and approval. We don't approve because Dean is the star, either. Cal is just more likeable than Aron, and more needy, and Abra is naturally drawn to needy types. Abra's greatest fulfillment is when she mediates between Cal and his father. Harris doesn't let the moment degenerate into grandstanding emotionalism. When Harris' face moves from elation to despair, our personal reactions follow.

The acting style of James Dean clashed with that of old-school actor Raymond Massey, the kind of fellow who memorized his lines and had difficulty going beyond his two or three ways of playing a scene. Whatever shake-up or insecurity the new approach caused, Kazan apparently thought it would have an interesting effect on Massey's playing. In East of Eden Massey is both more subdued and more forceful than usual.

The presence of the remarkable Jo Van Fleet makes a good comparison with her role in Kazan's Wild River; several situations in East of Eden are repeated in that movie. Intriguingly, many incidental details from East of Eden show up in the early films of another native Californian, Sam Peckinpah, as if he were deeply impressed by the movie. Salinas and Monterey are only a decade or two past the Wild West days; Sam the Sheriff behaves as if he might have known Peckinpah's Steve Judd, a lawman who supposedly 'cleaned up' Monterey.


Warners' Blu-ray of East of Eden is a solid HD transfer that brings back almost all the film's original color values. Exteriors lean a bit toward red but interiors are rich and the contrast is good. Leonard Rosenman's score comes through well in Warners' dynamic sound mix; the only thing that seems artificial is the dubbed re-voicing of the mumbling Timothy Carey as Kate's bouncer Joe. The three-minute Overture was apparently used at a special screening in New York. Otherwise, it's actually a music bed specifically orchestrated and recorded for the film's trailer, which is included among the disc extras. Compare them -- they're exactly the same.  1

As with the other two movies, the extras are almost all repeated from the earlier Dean releases. The feature disc has a commentary by Richard Schickel and a theatrical trailer which strains to associate the characters with sinful motivations and deeds. A worthwhile TV docu called Forever James Dean is included, along with a handsome featurette Art In Search of Life. It contains input from actors Julie Harris and Lonny Chapman, as well as file interviews with Elia Kazan and Paul Osborne. It begins with a discussion of John Steinbeck's novel.

Two lengthy film galleries containing additional scenes and screen tests are also repeated, as well as wardrobe, costume and production design tests. We see Richard Davalos and James Dean playing trial scenes together in B&W. Color and 'Scope tests give us a good look at planned wall coverings and props as well as many cast members in their costumes. We note the professionalism of the actors. A test for Lois Smith reveals that the director must have found her a very interesting actress -- she's filmed in romantic close-ups with Dean that surely convinced studio executives of her promise. Smith received good notices in a Western follow-up called Strange Lady in Town, and almost sixty years later is still working.

A fifteen-minute kinescope of the Broadway premiere is one of those interview situations that snags celebrities on their way into the big show. Denise Darcel's spotlight is stolen when the camera switches away to see a flash of Marilyn Monroe disappearing into the theater. Imogene Coca is complimented on her television comedy. John Steinbeck shows up with director Kazan and offers some jokey remarks -- we'd never think this was the celebrated author of The Grapes of Wrath.


Rebel Without a Cause
1955 / 2:35 widescreen / 111 min. / (individual price) 27.98
Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson, Dennis Hopper, Edward Platt
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Art Direction Malcolm C. Bert
Film Editor William Ziegle
Original Music Leonard Rosenman
Written by Nicholas Ray, Irving Shulman, Stewart Stern
Produced by David Weisbart
Directed by Nicholas Ray

Rebel Without a Cause is the touchstone film for the creation of the modern teenager. It hit the screens concurrently with Blackboard Jungle but differs from it in crucial ways. It's told from the point of view of the kids, not a teacher learning about life in the inner city. Secondly, the teens here are upscale middle class kids, not disadvantaged ghetto orphans. Their families can afford allowances for clothing and in many cases cars. Anybody can understand why a slum kid might break the law, but American parents that 'won the war' couldn't fathom why their darling babies would rebel after being given so many consumer luxuries. Memories of the Depression were barely twenty years old.

Director Nicholas Ray's film gave the teen problem a fully liberalized spin. He builds on his noir classic They Live By Night, which identified its star-crossed criminal teens as innocents in an evil world not of their making. Ray makes James Dean and Co. the noble victims of adult hypocrisy and blindness, seeking new relationships when all the traditional ones have broken down. In one stroke, American youth recognized the concepts of teen angst and alienation, from an actor-messiah already in his grave.

A new kid comes to Dawson High in an upscale L.A. neighborhood. The troubled Jim Stark (James Dean) immediately tangles with the tough high school crowd that drives hot rods and sometimes carries switchblades. But he's attracted to dreamy neighbor girl Judy (Natalie Wood) and protective of an introverted kid, John "Plato" Crawford (Sal Mineo). Despite the pleas of his parents, Jim keeps to his dangerous path. He's eventually involved in the death of a charismatic gang leader during a "chickie run" daredevil game on a seaside Palos Verdes bluff. When Plato runs away in panic, Judy and Jim hide out with him in an abandoned house in Los Feliz. The police close in convinced that they're dealing with armed and dangerous 'wild juvenile delinquents.'

Around 1957 Mad Magazine presented a terrific cartoon article. It spelled out the facts of teen alienation so clearly that it should have been made required reading by responsible authorities everywhere. The argument of the piece is that all the supposed teenage sins -- irresponsibility, loose morals, corruption, the coveting of consumer goods -- are but a faint mirror-image of a society that worships the same idols. Those that condemned the teens were simply scapegoating them for their own sins... eating their own young, one might say.

When we college students saw Rebel Without a Cause around 1971, Mad's basic argument still held. The 'eating their own young' idea had finally come to pass with the Vietnam War. But even we could see that the James Dean movie was an overstated and preachy psychodrama. The overly glamorized Juvenile Delinquent thrills made the movie seem like an upscale take on the fourth-rate JD flicks that followed from A.I.P. and Allied Artists. Pictures like Teenage Doll and even the superior The Cool and the Crazy are self-consciously trashy; Rebel wants to be meaningful.  2

The film's key dramatic scenes are pitched several notches too high. Jim has some utterly laughable encounters with his parents. His mother is an appearances-obsessed ninny. His father is an emasculated, indecisive marshmallow in a frilly apron. Dean's acting is always dynamic, but the 'famous' moment where he points fingers left and right and wails "You're tearing me apart!" is just plain bad. When Dean demands that his father stand up for himself, far too much adult perspective is lumped onto the Jim Stark character. He's expressing the Author's Thesis in terms too articulate for a mixed-up teen. Those scenes and the one where Jim, Judy and Plato form their own impromptu family may have been emotional experiences for the teens of 1955. But by any objective standard they are painfully obvious.

To carry out the film's agenda, Jim Stark and Judy find nothing but hostility wherever they turn. Judy's father rejects his daughter's affection. Concerned social workers are shoved aside by police who treat the kids like public enemies. The finish is contrived to give the meek Plato a gun, thus providing the cops with an excuse to open fire. The 'real' high school kids that played roles in the film considered the story rather corny and unbelievable. They could help Ray and his studio crew to get the cars and the clothes right, but the Greek Tragedy structure will always seem an imposition.

Rebel Without a Cause does one thing perfectly: it nails the anxieties underpinning the affluent '50s. The scared little kid in 1948's Pitfall, the one who has nightmares over vague ideas of family discord in an unstable world, is now in high school. In Blackboard Jungle the hoodlums are mobilized (none too believably) by the moral implications of Jack and the Beanstalk. Rebel's scene in the Griffith Observatory shows the unruly teens mesmerized by Ian Wolfe's doom-laden speech about the end of the universe, complete with visual effects on the planetarium ceiling that suggest nuclear annihilation. Why should teens respect authority, when the adults in charge of the world are trying to murder the entire human race?  3

Most every subsequent depiction of American youth has been influenced by James Dean's example. The vacuum left by Dean's death launched a dozen big careers, starting, they say, with Paul Newman's. As a 25 year-old, Steve(n) McQueen had to stretch to pretend he was a confused high-schooler in The Blob. It's said that future Billy Jack Tom Laughlin drove director Robert Altman nuts while filming 1957's The Delinquents. To follow the Method, in one scene Laughlin made the entire crew wait while he ran around the block to be suitably winded. Robert Vaughn, Robert Drivas, Michael Parks ... the list goes on, and includes Rebel alumni Dennis Hopper and Nick Adams.

Nicholas Ray's visual storytelling cannot be faulted. An unstable perfectionist, Ray fostered intimate relationships with his actors and encouraged a style of improvisation almost unknown on studio shoots. Actor Jim Backus was reportedly quite shaken to find James Dean roughing him up in take after take, tossing him across the room, etc.. A Dean inspiration would frequently lead to an unplanned Ray setup.

Los Angeles also never looked better. The Griffith Observatory will forever be famous as the locale for Hollywood's first teen switchblade fight, and anybody driving west on Pico in Santa Monica can see the front of Santa Monica High, which served as Jim Stark's alma mater. I don't remember any specific rash of murderous chickie runs imitating the grandiose finish at the cliffs of Portuguese Point, but no doubt similar mishaps were blamed on the film. One of the extra featurettes claims that the movie ended up being banned in some communities, so as not to encourage copycat behavior.


Warners' Blu-ray of Rebel Without a Cause picks up more detail and color in its HD incarnation, but doesn't look quite as sharp as does East of Eden. Leonard Rosenman's brassy music score must have stuck in Bernard Herrmann's dreams, because a main melody line seems to have migrated intact into his score for Marnie (and a tiny phrase into Fahrenheit 451 as well?). Has anybody ever noticed that authentic teen music, which was always such a big part of the culture, is completely missing from Rebel?

Douglas L. Rathgeb's commentary fills in a million details, starting with the origin of the mysterious monkey toy that Dean plays with behind the titles. His remarks pay off when part of the deleted opening sequence he describes shows up in the galleries of extras. The original trailer indicates how strongly the WB publicists were pushing the Dean-mania phenomenon. The trailer is so excited about the hot actor that it barely has time to mention the presence of Natalie Wood. Camera tests, screen tests, and wardrobe tests back up the personal stories of how the teen gang was assembled for the film. "Additional Scenes" include several B&W takes shot before the movie was upgraded to color.

Climbing the quality ladder of featurettes, first up are three fat segments from Warners' promotional TV show with Gig Young. They're the kind of fluff that spends minutes contemplating the grandeur of studio trucks rolling to location. But they do include Dean's famously ironic 'Drive Safely' plug. Next up is a garishly painful docu called James Dean Remembered (67 minutes), which uses Peter Lawford as a lame-beyond-belief host in hipster garb circa 1974 or so.

The 36-minute featurette Defiant Innocents shows us news film of '50s juvenile delinquents and rounds up several of the teen actors to comment on the experience of working on a famous film with the legendary actor. The lore/myth/rumors are more believable when heard directly from the mouths of folks who were actually there. We're told that when studio folk came for Natalie Wood after a car accident with Dennis Hopper, she pointed down the hospital corridor and shouted, "that doctor called me a delinquent!" as an endorsement for getting the Judy role. Another speaker claims that Wood's boyfriend Hopper was largely written out of the picture after she began an affair with the older Ray, a situation similar to the John Ireland/Joanne Dru/Howard Hawks legend on the movie Red River.

New to this edition is Memories from the Warner Lot, an 11-minute interview with the late Dennis Hopper, taped not long ago. The actor talks about being hired at $250 a week, and recounts his career problems resulting from a bad experience with director Henry Hathaway.


Giant
1956 / 1:66 widescreen / 201 min. / 26.99 / (individual price) 27.98
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Judith Evelyn, Earl Holliman, Elsa Cárdenas
Cinematography William C. Mellor
Production Designer Boris Leven
Film Editor William Hornbeck
Original Music Dimitri Tiomkin
Written by Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber
Produced by Henry Ginsberg, George Stevens
Directed by George Stevens

James Dean's third and last starring film is a major epic produced by Hollywood's top director, George Stevens. Edna Ferber's books were tailor-made for long, sprawling multi-generational film epics. I wouldn't be surprised if her novel Giant began in an earlier generation, fifty years before Bick and Leslie came on the scene. As it is, this huge tale opens in the 1920s and spans thirty years or so, introducing an additional cast of characters when the babies born in part one grow up. It's one of Elizabeth Taylor's best performances, and surely some of the best work by then untested actor Rock Hudson.

George Stevens' liberal agenda in Giant boils down to the championing of human decency over racist tradition. His approach to the problem of 'Texan' attitudes won the state's popular approval, mainly by portraying some of the proud, closed-minded ranchers as friendly and fair-minded. The end of the show is an extended Civil Rights lecture without words, that's one of the best examples of liberal filmmaking.

Jordan 'Bick' Benedict (Rock Hudson) and his sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) run Reata, a huge ranch in Texas. On a horse-buying trip to Maryland, Bick brings back a bride, Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor). She begins a lifetime's work trying to change, or at least understand Texan ways, particularly the region's oppression of Mexican-Americans. Luz gives a tiny piece of Reata to young Jett Rink (James Dean), a poor ranch hand. He works hard to strike oil, to achieve his goal of overcoming the hated Bick. When the children grow up adopting Leslie's values, Bick is troubled: his own son (Dennis Hopper) has no interest in ranching.

Giant certainly is impressive film. It can't be easy to cast and direct an epic like this, and George Stevens' skill in balancing the story between sweeping events and intimate character details is remarkable. The first half in particular never seems to be in a rush, except when it hurries to dispose of the interesting Mercedes McCambridge character. The film's surface is underpinned with unspoken textures that seem to have details of their own. Ex- child star Jane Withers plays a rancher neighbor who hoped to marry Rock Hudson. The hurt look on her face as she makes an effort to be sociable while meeting Hudson's new bride, 'says' a whole chapter in itself.

Stevens avoids making a parody out of the contrast between Maryland landed gentry and the new breed of baron on the plains of Texas. Elizabeth's mother (Judith Evelyn of Rear Window and The Tingler) is a snob, but a pleasant one afforded some dignity. All of the characters introduced in the first half are rich and rewarding. The folksy Uncle Bawley allows the comic Chill Wills to play straight to good effect.

The Civil Rights theme eventually counters the feudal rule of the Benedicts, and is given equal time and emphasis. Leslie finds the local Mexican population living in primitive squalor. When the local Texans won't cooperate she betters their lot by bringing in a Latin doctor. The liberalism of the film makes for interesting discussion. 1956 is fairly early for thought-out Civil Rights messages; Hollywood was just beginning to admit that 'people of color' existed as more than servants. Sidney Poitier would soon achieve co-star status in a few liberal issue films, which at the time were a big novelty.

Almost all the Mexican-Americans in Giant are menials or ranch hands, and the writers would have distorted reality if they had created a token character with a bigger role in the first half. Leslie's intervention is a sincere and personal version of the 'society lady does charity' phoniness that's always passed for compassion among the rich. It makes a difference because she actually cares, with a resolve equal to the Texan side of the family.

The film's second half must cover decades of time in longer strides. The new generation rebels entirely against Bick's Law of Riata. The heir apparent Jordan Jr. chooses medicine over ranching, and Luz's namesake is enthusiastic about cattle but doesn't want to inherit Daddy's spread. Bick did his best to impose his personal ambitions on his kids when they were small. This almost universal experience is encapsulated in young Jordan's traumatic horseback ride, where the American Father attempts to wrest control back from Mother. What the children actually inherit from Bick is the desire to do what they want with their lives. That's not a bad legacy, as it turns out.

James Dean's Jett Rink character evolves into a white-trash upstart who uses oil money to become a spoiler tycoon. His example balances out the liberal-conservative politics of Giant. Jett is the American dream being held back by entrenched money and class snobbery, and we want him to succeed even though he's a crude yokel. He begins as a peon among other peons, but his ingrained racism runs even deeper than the paternalistic thoughtlessness of Bick's ruling class. Here's a New-Money land baron with the greed and vanity to make the old-money Benedicts seem benign by comparison.

Giant makes sure that Jett Rink gets his comeuppance. He wants the rich man's woman, and when he can't have her self-destructs like the pitiful lead in a classic tragedy. His story is an energetic but weak part of Giant, mainly because Jett's second-act rise to success is sketched so thinly. James Dean's age makeup is inadequate, and his performance doesn't get enough screen time to appear like anything but a skit. The gag of having Jett use a sneaky one-two combo to sucker-punch his adversaries shows his arrogant solution to obstacles but it doesn't compensate for missing character detail. One longs for the visual storytelling of the first half, where a few choice images of Jett pacing out his patch of land seems to encompass the whole story of pioneer America.

Giant's conclusion is saved by its forceful follow-through on the Civil Rights thread. Star Elizabeth Taylor takes second seat to events that integrate Mexicans and Anglos directly through intermarriage. Bick's prize son turns out to be a very non-Texan, a non-masculine Mother's boy who becomes a doctor and marries a Mexican-American woman. The eventual Latin re-conquest of the West is given a strong omen in Angel Obregon (Sal Mineo). The film is unique in its use of precious running time to detail the humiliation of young Jordan's wife Juana (Elsa Cárdenas of The Wild Bunch) in a whites-only beauty salon.

Giant resolves its twin themes with a thoughtful maturity. Jett Rink's aura is deflated before he can possess Leslie by proxy, through her infatuated daughter.  4 Jordan Junior finds an issue worth defending as his father would, with his fists. He goes up against Jett in bonded Benedict tradition. Bick Benedict's own stand for Civil Rights is the payoff of what has taken him his whole life to learn. The showdown at Sarge's Burgers is a foolish fight, against a tough customer at least fifteen years younger than Bick, and it's not as black and white as it appears. "Sarge" is a proud WW2 veteran, for whom victory means the right to run his own diner any damn way he wants. He didn't make things the way they are. He defends his right to discriminate as part of his identity and character. Bick's fight is an attempt to apply old-style frontier justice to his hard-learned values... a stand he'd surely never take if his own family hadn't become ethnically diverse.

This is what Leslie celebrates when she hugs the unconscious Bick, her hero. He's joined the losing side and won an enormous victory. The scene is not only honest, it's nostalgic for an America that "hasn't happened yet."

Stevens' subversive visual coda shows two infants side by side in their playpen, an image that hammers home his essential liberal humanism without speeches. Young Anglo and Mex drool and stare together with their huge, hungry eyes. They're the future, which Giant says will be a blending of bloodlines -- without predicting whether the result will be harmony or chaos. The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Us, but are they sinister or benign? The image is a gauntlet (a baby mitten?) thrown at the feet of Racial Purity.


Warners' Blu-ray of Giant appears to have some restoration issues. Colors are good but sharpness and overall quality changes from reel to reel; it looks as if the WB restoration people had to deal with many duplicated sections in this very long film. Contrast has been evened out well but subtle flaws remain in a few sequences, like halo effects around strong lines of contrast. Although most of the presentation is sharp and strong, soft sections stand out.

And unless our eyes deceive us, the movie has many shots with problematic focus, even a few close-ups of Elizabeth Taylor. Not having seen a good print of Giant on a screen, I can't be sure, but this is the only George Stevens film I've seen in which technical aspects were anything but perfect, or better than perfect. None of this dulls the film's impact, however -- I haven't seen many films with as strong a sense of family. Warners is so dedicated to its top titles, that I have to conclude that Giant presented some difficult remastering problems.

George Stevens Jr., the keeper of his father's legacy, provides a highly subjective on-screen introduction for the film, and moderates a commentary with writer Ivan Moffat and critic Stephen Farber. The many extras appear on a separate DVD disc. The 45-minute docu Filmmakers Who Knew Him contains input from Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Alan J. Pakula, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise and Fred Zinnemann. The inteviews are outtakes from the 1983 feature docu George Stevens, A Filmmaker's Journey, also directed by George Stevens Jr.. Also carried over from the previous disc are two docu featurettes (Memory of Giant, Return to Giant), a newsreel of the L.A. premiere, other newsreels, trailers, production notes, and selected documents.

A chaotic New York premiere TV show is great for star watching. In contrast to the organized star parade in the similar special for A Star Is Born, this half-hour sticks Chill Wills and too many celebrities in a cramped space in front of a New York theater. It's fun watching them stumble on and off camera, while the emcees try to deal with camera-crashing charity executives and their wives. The Hollywood premiere newsreel clearly shows Clint Eastwood, then a contract player & relative nobody, in line behind a bigger star. Some production documents and correspondence make up another interesting extra.


Warner Home Video's Blu-ray of the James Dean Ultimate Collector's Edition has been given the swank gift package treatment. It comes in an attractive oversized white box, with a hardcover souvenir book and an envelope of stills, posters and document reproductions. A folding holder contains the three films on three Blu-rays and four DVDs in a folding plastic and card disc holder.

Be prepared for a lot of repeated information and visuals, as each of the three extra DVDs contains another feature-length documentary about James Dean. James Dean: Sense Memories is a lavish 2005 American Masters docu written and directed by Gail Levin. James Dean Forever Young by Michael J. Sheridan digs into video and film archives, and uses a wealth of still photography, to chart the actor's rise to success. I reviewed it in 2005, at this Savant page. George Stevens Jr's oft-shown documentary about his father George Stevens, A Filmmaker's Journey also has a disc to itself.

Interestingly, the one James Dean documentary nobody mentions any more is the first, 1957's The James Dean Story directed by none other than Robert Altman. I saw it once and it wasn't bad at all. An interview in Altman's film takes place at a UCLA frat house where I spent the summer of '71. Dean had holed up at the same frat for a few weeks twenty years before, so for all I know I lived in the same room James Dean lived in. With my new celebrity status, my agent is considering cash offers for exclusive interviews.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
the James Dean Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray rates:
Movies: Excellent
Video: Eden & Rebel Excellent; Giant Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Sound: Audio English, French, Spanish (2), German, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Polish
Supplements: Many. See above.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish (2), German, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Danish, Suomi, Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish, Turkish.
Packaging: Three Blu-rays and four DVDs in a folding plastic and card disc holder
Reviewed: October 23, 2013

Footnotes:

1. Along with scores of other stereophonic Warners films from this time, the original four-track stereo masters of Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden were discarded by the studio years ago. Many of these stereo tracks were rescued in the late 1980s by Warners' then- special projects manager Michael Arick. He haunted the Library of Congress for days until the clerks finally admitted that the Warners file prints (with their original magnetic-striped stereo audio) were on-site and available. He located many dupe stereo masters in England as well.
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2. When I say that we 1970 college freshmen thought Rebel Without a Cause was cornball and overdone, I don't mean to imply that we were fit judges. Most of us nodded lamely when confronted by the fuzzy non-philosophies of things like Easy Rider. Time has also taken away the sting of awkwardness from the film's image of 1955 teens. Nowadays, anything about the '50s more accurate than Grease has to be considered a special item.
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3. More Nicholas Ray trivia - the planetarium speaker Ian Wolfe is also Ray's voice of doom in They Live by Night, telling the young criminal Bowie that he hasn't a chance of escaping with his new bride.
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4. Strange echoes of The Searchers, there - who says American Westerns aren't sexually perverse?
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2013 Glenn Erickson

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