84 years ago today James Dean was born. He would go on to be one of the most successful actors in Hollywood and yet he only made three films in under two years. All though his career was short lived due to his untimely death at the age of 24 he became a star that the young people of the 50’s could relate to. The film Rebel Without a Cause still strikes a chord with the youth of today. Dean’s style would become iconic and his short life would be looked at time and time again in relation to his sexual orientation and his memorable style. He is truly a legend in his own rights, achieving in five years what many actors didn’t in their entire careers. He earned the respect of his fellow actors and crews and of his fans both young and old.
The 50’s really was the best time for Dean to be an actor on the big screen. His three staring films are practically classics and I hope that everyone has watched at least one.
East of Eden was the first he got main billing for in 1955. Aged 24 he starred in this take of John Steinbeck’s book of the same name. As a young guy himself he really showed his maturity in this film as it is loosely based on the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. We see Dean go through love and hate towards his father and brother. He tries his hardest to gain his fathers approval and it is so very convincing that when, at the end, he achieves the approval and love he craves you can’t help but smile. Many reviewers said this was Dean’s best ever performance and the Academy Awards saw fit to award him an Oscar for his acting role in 1956. He was the first person to receive a posthumous nomination.
Soon after in 1955 he’d star in another film where he’d be vying after the affections and attentions of a father figure. Rebel Without a Cause will be his most recognisable film where he played teenager Jim Stark opposite teenage stars Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. The film is a masterpiece and sees Dean portray eerily perfectly the raw feelings felt by the middle class youth. He has such an expressive face and way of acting that works perfectly in all the high emotion scenes. His red jacket and quiff became staple requirements for many men of the 50’s. The story works well for Dean because of his age and he works wonderfully onscreen with Wood and Mineo making this a performance that will never be forgotten. Unfortunately Dean never saw the completed film, Warner Brothers released it less than a month after he’d died.
His last film was released in 1956 and took a completely different road to his previous two films. Giant saw him play a stable hand who strikes it rich with oil, not the young person he feared he’d be typecast as. In Giant you see Dean’s dedication to the film and the art of acting by actually dying his hair grey to portray the ageing of his character. He stars opposite stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in the film and he bounces off them perfectly. Giant itself was released around a year after his death and someone had to dub some of his lines in production because of his sudden death. Again he received a posthumous Academy Award and if you watch the film you’ll agree it was well deserved.
Even though James Dean only starred in three films he made three films that can be watched by anyone. His talent was a massive part of his short success and so was his iconic image. He will be remembered for a very long time and hopefully his films will be remembered as well as his fast life and tragic death have been.