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James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant)

Street Date:
November 5th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
December 2nd, 2013
Movie Release Year:
1955
Studio:
Warner Brothers
Length:
427 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Actor. Icon. Legend. Rebel. Though James Dean may have achieved in death far more than he ever did during his short, fast-lane life, he nevertheless made an indelible imprint on the American consciousness, striking a chord with a restless, disaffected youth desperate for a poster boy to symbolize their feelings. Cool yet introverted, tortured, and wild, Dean was a jumble of contradictions, an enigma, and in the six decades since his death in an automobile accident at the tender age of 24, we have yet to solve him. And so his legend grows. He only starred in three films during a brief 16-month span, but his raw talent and innate magnetism captured the collective imagination of audiences everywhere. Combining child-like innocence and heartbreaking sincerity with unbridled rage and shameless emotional displays, Dean tore up the screen, acting with a fearless vigor and piercing intensity that remain captivating, even when his choices backfire. What boggles the mind is that he made such a monumental and lasting impact with such a small body of work. Marilyn and Elvis toiled for years before achieving the level of immortality Dean gained in the blink of an eye.

Was he a great actor? I'd say no. But he was an intuitive, highly creative actor who took chances and blazed a trail for a more naturalistic style of performing. When evaluated next to fellow 1950s rebels Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, Dean is the weakest of the triumvirate, yet he was also the youngest and least polished. Who knows what he might have attained had he lived, how his range might have expanded, and how he might have evolved personally had that fateful car not turned in front of his speeding Porsche on that lonely stretch of California highway on September 30, 1955? Would Dean have continued to reach dizzying heights or would he have crashed and burned like so many other shooting stars who rocketed to fame only to see their careers spontaneously combust?

No one knows. And, of course, such conjecture is a major component of Dean's mystique. Without the opportunity to grow, Dean is frozen in time, a fascinating figure of passion, angst, androgyny, aching sensitivity, deep-seeded need, and most of all, youth. And that's why, almost 60 years after his death, we still care so deeply about him, still cherish his contributions to cinema, and still view him as a relevant, influential figure.

Such reverence permeates Warner Home Video's sumptuous box set, 'James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition,' which includes Dean's three major films: 'East of Eden,' 'Rebel Without a Cause,' and 'Giant,' along with two feature-length documentaries examining the actor's life, legacy, and influence, and a host of other rarities. It's an impressive celebration of the now mythic figure that reminds us again what we had in Dean, and what we lost.

'East of Eden'

Based on John Steinbeck's bestselling novel of family secrets, sibling rivalry, and parental neglect, 'East of Eden' updates the Cain and Abel story of brotherly discord, shifting the locale to California's Salinas Valley and chronicling the turbulent relationship between a father, Adam Trask (Raymond Massey), and his two sons around the time of World War I. Aron (Richard Davalos) is the "good" son - responsible, mature, upstanding - and Cal (Dean) is supposedly the bad seed - wild, impetuous, ornery - who takes after his free-spirited mother (Jo Van Fleet in an Oscar-winning performance) who abandoned the family when the boys were toddlers and now runs a house of ill repute in nearby Monterey. Years ago, Adam told Aron and Cal their mother had died, but as the film opens, Cal has discovered she's very much alive and seeks her out, much to the bitter woman's displeasure. Alienated from his father, yet still desperate for his affection, respect, and acknowledgment, Cal courts both his parents in an effort to gain some measure of self discovery, all the while harboring jealousy and resentment toward the favored Aron and his fresh-faced girlfriend, Abra (Julie Harris), who at first dismisses Cal, then recognizes his pain and tries to help him.

Emotional and melodramatic, yet plagued by a nagging stiffness in tone, 'East of Eden' cogently examines a number of potent themes - family dynamics, crippling insecurities, desperation, coming of age, and the transformative power of love. Director Elia Kazan employs off-kilter camera angles to show the imbalance in human relationships, and depicts subtle shifts in attitude and outlook with a keen perception. An actor himself, Kazan identifies with his performers and wrings from them some of their finest work. Dean (who received a posthumous Best Actor Academy Award nomination) and Fleet come off best with no-holds-barred portrayals, but the quiet tenderness Harris conveys is equally appealing. Her scenes with Dean toward the end of the film brim with a heartbreaking sensitivity that's supremely affecting.

With additional Oscar nominations for directing and adapted screenplay, 'East of Eden' stands on its own as a well-made, literate film that intimately connects with audiences. Yet it's most noteworthy for spawning and showcasing Dean's misunderstood, malcontented, and rebellious on-screen persona, an anti-establishment image that would carry through his next two pictures, capture the imagination of a troubled generation, and define his legacy. Rating: 4 stars.

'Rebel Without a Cause'

Say the name James Dean and a slightly hunched, slender, sandy-haired figure wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a scuffed red jacket immediately springs to mind. And so does the character of troubled, tortured teen, Jim Stark. More so than Cal Trask and Jett Rink, Jim Stark seems to be Dean's alter ego, and 'Rebel Without a Cause' is without question the actor's most iconic film, the one that cemented his reputation and sealed his fate as a symbol of tormented youth. Nicholas Ray's ripped-from-the-headlines drama of alienation, defiance, and individualism was one of the first (and best) movies to explore the generation gap between rowdy teens and their ineffectual parents, and though its depiction of that gaping chasm sometimes goes over the top, the potent message still rings true. Circumstances may change, but core problems remain the same, and that's why 'Rebel' resonates just as strongly now as it surely did almost six decades ago.

Another reason the film strikes such a chord is that the kids who populate it are the kids next door. Jim, Judy (Natalie Wood), Plato (Sal Mineo), and the rest of the high-schoolers aren't the same punks who populate 'The Blackboard Jungle'; they're "good" kids from "fine" homes who don't appreciate the privileges afforded them and rebel simply to break free from the constricting, rigid atmosphere of middle-class inertia. Lack of both communication and intimacy fuel the problems, and with insight and perception, screenwriter Stewart Stern gets under the teens' skins, painting an affecting portrait of loners who long for meaning and connection.

As the stereotypical new kid in town, Jim, who already has a history of attracting "trouble," is instantly ostracized by his peers and forced to prove his worth and mettle first in a knife fight and then - in the film's most famous scene - in a dangerous game of "chickie run," in which two drivers speed their cars toward a cliff and the last one to jump out wins. Tragedy ensues, and the resulting fallout sends Jim, Judy, and the worshipping Plato to an abandoned mansion where they hope to find a measure of peace.

Ray's tough, melodramatic style suits the material well, and Dean commands the screen as the anguished adolescent who's more mature than his bickering parents (Jim Backus and Ann Doran). Wood, who previously had played only juvenile parts, makes a striking impression in her first mature role, displaying the combination of tenderness, spunk, and beauty that would soon make her a major star, and Mineo will break your heart as a neglected outcast who latches onto Jim like a lost puppy. Both actors would be nominated for Best Supporting Oscars for their natural and affecting portrayals.

Some elements of 'Rebel' seem a bit dated today, but the film retains its magnetism, thanks to timeless themes and the universal emotions it expresses. At one point or another, we've all felt like Jim, Judy, and Plato, and it's that visceral identification that keeps this movie relevant. Rating: 4-1/2 stars.

'Giant'

Dean received another posthumous Best Actor Oscar nomination for 'Giant,' but the role of shiftless outcast Jett Rink, who strikes it big on a dusty plot of Texas land and becomes a ruthless oil baron, is really more of a supporting part. Still, it's a noteworthy role for Dean, as it veers away from the emotionally ravaged heroes of his two previous films and allowed the actor the chance to widen his horizons. Along with co-stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Dean ages from his 20s to his 50s throughout the course of the three-hour-twenty-one-minute epic that's both a chronicle of a family and a state.

After a whirlwind courtship, rich Texas rancher Bick Benedict (Hudson) weds Leslie (Taylor), a headstrong belle from Maryland, and whisks her away to Reata, his remote, half-a-million-acre compound. Once there, Bick tries to indoctrinate Leslie into the macho culture and conservative attitudes of the Lone Star State, but his young bride has a mind of her own and fights the blatant sexism, insidious racism, and widespread arrogance that blanket the windblown landscape. Over the years, as they raise their family and deal with the trials and tribulations of the second generation of Benedicts, Bick and Leslie lock horns over a variety of issues while adapting to changing mores and circumstances in the country at large and within their own marriage. Meanwhile, Bick and Jett, who have always harbored a mutual dislike for each other, become bitter rivals when Jett's wealth begins to eclipse Bick's, and their burgeoning enmity disrupts both their lives, especially when Jett becomes involved with Bick's daughter, Luz (Carroll Baker).

In some ways, the strong-willed, take-no-prisoners Leslie resembles Scarlett O'Hara, and at times, 'Giant' recalls 'Gone With the Wind' in terms of its scope, music score, large cast of characters, and depiction of how a bygone way of life evolves over time. Based on Edna Ferber's bestselling novel, 'Giant' ruffled plenty of Texan feathers in book form, but director George Stevens (who won the film's only Academy Award out of 10 nominations, including Best Picture) manages to celebrate the state's individualism and unique culture without glossing over its problems. 'Giant' is the third and final film in Stevens' American trilogy - 'A Place in the Sun' and 'Shane' are the other two - and despite its epic canvas, possesses an intimate feel. Like a lazy Texas drawl, 'Giant' takes its time making its points, but the movie is rich in character and theme, and only occasionally sputters during its lengthy running time. The work of Taylor, Hudson (who also received a Best Actor Oscar nomination), and Dean is uniformly excellent, even as they awkwardly age, and the supporting actors, especially Baker, Mercedes McCambridge, and a young Dennis Hopper, also file impressive performances.

Like Texas itself, 'Giant' is big, blustery, and confident. It has a lot to say, and it states its case firmly and succinctly, inciting debate, admiration, and a bit of shame. Though the film belongs to Taylor and Hudson, Dean remains a potent, looming presence, a symbol of how greed, wealth, animosity, and jealousy corrupt and destroy. As epics go, 'Giant' is more substantive than most, and the care that went into its production is evident in almost every frame. It's not Stevens' greatest film - I'd bestow that honor on 'A Place in the Sun' - but it's still a magnificent piece of filmmaking that holds up well. Rating: 4-1/2 stars.

Tragically, only a few days after shooting his final scene, Dean would die, a victim of his own recklessness. Yet like the title of his last movie, the actor casts a giant shadow and remains to this day a monumental figure in the world of cinema. Three movies may not be enough to make a career, but they were enough to coin a persona and give birth to a legacy that will outlast us all.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in an 11-1/2"-x-7-1/2"-x-1-3/4" box with a magnetic flap. Inside lies a similarly sized, lavishly illustrated, 44-page hardcover book that provides a cursory overview of Dean's career, impact, and legacy, along with a few items of trivia. Sadly, all the photos are in black-and-white, yet the volume is handsomely designed and makes a nice keepsake for Dean's fans. An envelope housing additional collectibles sits beneath the book, and contains 12 7"-x-10" glossy black-and-white stills of Dean on the sets of his various films, six reproductions of studio memos from 'East of Eden' and 'Rebel Without a Cause,' and three 14"-x-20" folded reproductions of posters from the three films included in this collection. A multi-paneled, fold-out disc case resides at the bottom of the box, and houses three BD-50 dual-layer discs and four standard-def DVDs. 'East of Eden,' 'Rebel Without a Cause,' and 'Giant' are also available individually in attractive digibook packaging with all the same disc extras included here for a few bucks less than this collector's set, so which edition you choose really depends on your packaging preference. I'm a huge fan of Warner digibooks, and wish they could have been included here instead of the fold-out case.

Video codec on all three films is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4. Default audio on 'East of Eden' and 'Rebel Without a Cause' is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and on 'Giant' it's DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Once the discs are inserted into the player, the static menus with music immediately pop up; no previews or promos precede them.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Warner always takes wonderful care of its classics collection, and these James Dean films represent the studio's commitment to producing quality transfers that honor the original look of each individual film. All the encodes are 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and have been taken from 4k scans of each film's negative.

'East of Eden'

With such picturesque California backdrops as the Salinas Valley and Monterey, I expected 'East of Eden' to possess a lush color palette, but Ted McCord's cinematography flaunts a muted look that's well represented on this high quality rendering. Occasionally, an explosion of vibrant hues, like the field of yellow wildflowers that engulfs Cal and Abra, perks up the picture, as do Kazan's off-kilter camera angles and striking deep focus shots. A light veneer of grain maintains the feel of celluloid and lends the image an appropriate period texture, while good contrast and clarity enhance the perception of fine details. Blacks are rich and deep, fleshtones are spot on, and close-ups look crisp. Any age-related imperfections have been removed from the source material, and no digital imperfections or doctoring destroy the print's integrity. This is a top-flight effort all around that should certainly please the film's fans. Rating: 4-1/2 stars.

'Rebel Without a Cause'

Red is the predominant color in 'Rebel Without a Cause,' and from the moment the block red letters appear on screen during the opening title sequence, we know we're in for a visual treat. Bold and beautifully saturated, the reds in 'Rebel' constantly make a statement, from Wood's lipstick and fiery coat in the early police station scene to the iconic, scuffed up red jacket Dean dons throughout most of the film. Other hues fare well, too, in this solid transfer that features excellent contrast and clarity, inky black levels, vibrant whites, and stable, true fleshtones. Grain is visible - more so during exterior location scenes than studio interiors - yet adds a potent naturalness to the image that's essential to the hard-hitting story. No nicks, marks, or scratches mar the pristine source material, and no banding, noise, or other digital anomalies afflict the picture. Much of the film takes place at night, but fine shadow delineation keeps crush at bay, and background elements are always sharp and easy to discern. Close-ups sport a nice array of detail, too. Rating: 4-1/2 stars.

'Giant'

Much of the time, the 'Giant' transfer is breathtakingly beautiful, distinguished by marvelous clarity and contrast, an unobtrusive grain structure that supplies vital texture and a lovely filmic feel, and bursts of vibrant hues that belie the movie's single-strip Warnercolor roots. Yet occasionally - sometimes in mid-scene - jarring soft shots appear that flaunt heavier grain and a slight smeary look, making one wonder if they were possibly culled from a different source. The discrepancies are frustrating, but overall, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 effort complements this colorful epic well and provides an immersive experience. Not a speck or errant scratch sullies the pristine print, which nicely showcases William C. Mellor's exquisite cinematography. Black levels are rich and deep - a silhouette of Bick as he gets off the train is striking - whites are crisp, and fleshtones look natural. Stevens' trademark slow dissolves are well rendered, as are the reflections in a train window early in the film, and some of the close-ups of Taylor are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Subtle details show up well, and shadow delineation is quite good, especially during a key scene between Bick and Leslie as they discuss their relationship. A bit of fading afflicts the image from time to time (darn that Warnercolor!), but accents like a bouquet of flowers or the yolk of a sunny-side egg add some pop to the picture. No digital doctoring seems to have been applied, and no imperfections, such as banding, noise, or crush inhibit one's enjoyment of the film. This is not the perfect presentation of 'Giant' for which classic movie buffs have long been pining, but it's probably the best we'll ever see. Rating: 4 stars.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Both 'East of Eden' and 'Rebel Without a Cause' feature DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, while 'Giant' is equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. Despite the difference in specs, the audio on all three films is strikingly similar - clear, robust, well-modulated, and devoid of surface noise, hiss, and other age-related imperfections. Though surround activity is practically non-existent on 'Eden' and 'Rebel,' both tracks produce full-bodied audio that fills the room well, especially during periods of extended scoring. The wide dynamic scales allow Leonard Rosenman's music free reign to push the limits of the high and low spectrums, and superior fidelity lends each composition a marvelous fullness and depth of tone. Atmospherics are limited, too, but the gentle breezes in 'East of Eden' and evening crickets in 'Rebel' provide a subtle sense of expanse. Conversations, even when peppered with Dean's patented mumbles, are always easy to comprehend, and accents such as footsteps, train whistles, and the sirens of squad cars are crisp and distinct.

The 'Giant' track is presented in two-channel mono and sounds appropriately robust. A slight bit of surface noise can be detected from time to time, but this is largely a clean track with solid fidelity and a nice expansive feel, which is rare for a single-channel mix. Bass tones are especially strong, with powerful rumbles occurring when Jett's well erupts, and accents, such as cows mooing, the slamming of a book, and shattering glass, make a statement, too. Dialogue remains clear and comprehendible throughout (though a few of Dean's mumbles are unintelligible), and Dimitri Tiomkin's patriotic music score possesses plenty of sonic vitality. The gusty Texas wind and driving raindrops during the storm sequence late in the film also add essential atmosphere. Stevens was famous for his meticulous, detailed soundscapes, and the effort he expended on 'Giant' is in full evidence here.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

An extensive, impressive, and utterly absorbing collection of supplements make this box set truly special. In addition to the commemorative hardcover book, poster reproductions, black-and-white glossy photographs, and copies of studio memos described above, there's a wealth of material associated with each individual film, as well as three feature-length documentaries on three separate DVDs that examine Dean's impact and legacy, as well as one of the iconic directors with whom he worked. It's quite a package, and all the elements will surely stoke the passions of both Dean and classic film aficionados.

Feature-Length Documentaries

  • "James Dean: Sense Memories" (SD, 53 minutes) – This intimate installment of the PBS 'American Masters' series focuses on 1955, the last year of Dean's short life, and features revealing interviews with fellow actors, close friends, and the directors who showcased his talent. Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Eli Wallach, Lois Smith, and in archival clips, Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan discuss Dean's unique magnetism, quirky personality, hang-ups, foibles, and passions. Smith, who worked with him in 'East of Eden,' remembers him as a "suspicious, taut, guarded young man," while Landau classifies him as "a little moody, a little angry, a little curious." Unreliable, evasive, unkempt, and shabby are other adjectives used to describe the iconic star, but as Rydell so succinctly states, "You couldn't take your eyes off him." Behind-the-scenes footage from 'Rebel Without a Cause' and a look at his enthusiasm for racing enhance this fascinating 2005 portrait that's distinguished by its simple and elegant presentation.
  • "James Dean: Forever Young" (SD, 88 minutes) – Comprised completely of film and television clips, rare photos, screen tests, and behind-the-scenes footage, this terrific 2005 documentary cogently chronicles Dean's career, from his arrival in Hollywood at age 18 to his apprenticeship in New York and ultimate cinema stardom. Martin Sheen narrates the profile, which expands our view of the legendary actor by concentrating on his myriad television roles during the early 1950s. Despite being known for only three big-screen films, Dean was a busy small-screen actor; the variety and frequency of his appearances are astonishing, and it's refreshing to see him play characters other than Cal Trask, Jim Stark, and Jett Rink. In rare clips, we see Dean act with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Rod Steiger, and John Kerr in parts that display the full breadth of his talent and showcase his charisma. In addition, this fluid, well-directed film takes a personal look at the man behind the image, examining Dean's romances with actresses Pier Angeli and Ursula Andress, close friendships with Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Taylor, and fatal attraction to sports cars and racing. We're also treated to glimpses of Dean in early bit parts; rare screen tests for 'East of Eden,' featuring Dean with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman; a wealth of raw and revealing photos; and an eerie public service announcement promoting safe driving that Dean shot just days before his deadly automobile accident. For those interested in Dean's career beyond his most famous roles, this is essential viewing.
  • "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey" (SD, 112 minutes) – One of the finest film documentaries ever made, 'George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey' honors one of Hollywood's preeminent craftsmen with grace, warmth, and a rare intimacy that immerses us in the director's life and work. Produced by his son, George Stevens Jr., and featuring reminiscences from such esteemed colleagues as Frank Capra, John Huston, Fred Zinnemann, Joseph Mankiewicz, Katharine Hepburn, Warren Beatty, and Fred Astaire, this 1985 profile celebrates the man behind 'Giant,' 'A Place in the Sun,' 'Shane,' 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' and many more classic movies. Film clips abound, but the insights and anecdotes of those interviewed and Stevens' off-screen achievements (development of new technology, esteemed service as a World War II documentarian, and outspoken opponent of McCarthyism) allow us to appreciate the human side of this renowned director and learn how his experiences shaped and influenced his most acclaimed motion pictures. Anyone who appreciates classic film will be transfixed by this moving and insightful tribute that salutes both a superb director and a great man.

'East of Eden'

  • Audio Commentary – Film critic and historian Richard Schickel sits down for a thoughtful, well-spoken, and informative commentary that combines trivia and anecdotes about the film with a cogent story analysis. Schickel terms 'East of Eden' one of the first movies to explore the breach between adolescents and adults, and praises Kazan, whom he calls a "manipulative director," for his clever use of CinemaScope and effective shot compositions. He also notes how the film fits in with Kazan's theme of profiling outsiders, and how the director's stylishness helps redeem the movie, which he often finds overly melodramatic. Schickel even criticizes the climactic scene and Dean's performance in it, but also praises the young actor on many occasions. I've heard many of Schickel's commentaries, which run the gamut from excellent to mediocre, and this is one of his better efforts. Fans of the picture will definitely find it worthwhile.
  • Documentary: "Forever James Dean" (SD, 60 minutes) – "Authentic," "identifiable," and a "rebel" are only a few of the words used to describe Dean in this 1988 profile that focuses more on the actor's childhood and legacy following his untimely death than the other documentaries in this collection. (It also perpetuates some myths that later salutes to Dean debunk.) Several of Dean's boyhood friends, as well as one of his schoolteachers, share their memories of the star, as do the performers who played Dean's fellow "teens" from 'Rebel Without a Cause.' The most insightful comments, however, come from co-star Julie Harris, who calls Dean "a comet that fell through the sky.' A host of film clips and photos enhance this study, which covers much the same ground as other documentaries, but from a slightly different perspective.
  • Featurette: "'East of Eden': Art in Search of Life" (SD, 20 minutes) – This absorbing 2005 featurette begins by examining the potent themes and semi-autobiographical aspects of the original novel, then segues into a discussion of its film adaptation. Steinbeck, Dean, and Kazan all reportedly harbored unresolved issues with their respective fathers, and 'East of Eden' allowed them to inject their personal experiences into their work. Kazan (in archival footage) discusses the casting of Dean (he got the part even though Kazan and Steinbeck didn't like him personally), and how he fanned the flames of friction between Massey and Dean for the good of the movie, while Harris recalls Dean's penchant for improvisation and a touching exchange she shared with the actor on the final day of shooting. A Steinbeck scholar, Steinbeck's son, film historian Richard Schickel, and a friend of Dean's also contribute insightful remarks to this above-average featurette.
  • Screen Test (SD, 6 minutes) – This black-and-white rarity is really a screen test for Richard Davalos, who asserts himself well opposite Dean in this introspective yet powerful scene.
  • Wardrobe Tests (SD, 19 minutes) – Davalos, Dean, Harris, Lois Smith, and Jo Van Fleet all show off their respective costumes in this collection of eight tests, all in full color. Plenty of good-natured clowning occurs whenever Dean participates, but unfortunately, all the tests are silent, so we can't understand the jokes.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 19 minutes) – This section includes only one excised scene and one alternate, elongated version of an existing scene that was ultimately shortened and restaged. The deleted scene provides additional character beats for both Aron and Cal, allowing the brothers to bond and express some tenderness. Two angles are included; a two-shot of Dean and Davalos, and a close-up of Dean. We're also treated to a couple of takes and angles of the alternate, elongated pre-birthday party scene between Cal and Abra, one of which includes a brief glimpse of Kazan directing Dean after the take is concluded. These sequences are fascinating to watch, as Dean's performance is never the same in any of them.
  • Vintage TV Footage: '3/9/55 Premiere" (SD, 15 minutes) – The 'East of Eden' New York premiere was such a big deal it became a live TV event, and a host of celebrities attended the gala. Raymond Massey, a dour John Steinbeck, director Elia Kazan, studio chief Jack Warner, comedian Milton Berle, Eva Marie Saint, Red Buttons, and Carol Channing are among the interviewees, and though she didn't stop by the microphones, Marilyn Monroe also lent her star power to the premiere, and we catch of glimpse of her from afar as she enters the theater.
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes) – The original preview of 'East of Eden,' touting its power and passion, completes the disc extras.

'Rebel Without a Cause'

  • Audio Commentary – The commentary on this disc comes from Douglas L. Rathgeb, who wrote a book about the making of 'Rebel Without a Cause.' Rathgeb knows his topic inside and out, and his nuts-and-bolts remarks provide us with an absorbing account of the film's production. He identifies all the locations, talks about how the movie's opening and ending differ from the original script, reviews the numerous censorship issues that had to be addressed, and discusses Warner's decision to release 'Rebel' on schedule despite Dean's death a month before. Rathgeb also sprinkles interesting bits of trivia throughout his monologue: the mansion used in the film was the same one where 'Sunset Boulevard' was shot; Wood broke Bette Davis' record for the longest crying scene in a Warner Bros picture; Ann Doran, who played Dean's mother, detested her role; and director Nicholas Ray makes a cameo appearance in the movie's final seconds. In addition, he debunks the theory that Plato is a homosexual, points out where Dean strays from the script and improvises, and examines the background of the "chickie run" race. The commentary is short on anecdotes, behind-the-scenes gossip (the affair between Wood and Ray is only briefly alluded to), and biographical information, but it's still interesting from a production standpoint.
  • Documentary: "James Dean Remembered" (SD, 67 minutes) – The same year he produced the big-screen MGM musicals celebration, 'That's Entertainment!,' Jack Haley Jr. also mounted a small-screen profile of the legendary James Dean. Though this 1974 TV special is more of a psychoanalytical session than a documentary, it's nevertheless a stimulating and insightful examination of Dean's character, talent, and influences. Host Peter Lawford interviews several Dean intimates, including Sammy Davis Jr., Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and composer Leonard Rosenman, all of whom share marvelous anecdotes, express their high regard for Dean, and try their best to dissect his personality, motivations, and actions. Topics debated include Dean's possible homosexual and self-destructive tendencies, his troubled relationship with his father, and the younger generation's attraction to him both during his life and after his death. All of the guests are surprisingly candid and articulate, and Lawford makes an excellent interviewer...if you can divorce the man from his hideous '70s wardrobe. There are several Dean documentaries included in this collection, but this is one of the few that really gets under the actor's skin and explores both his professional genius and personal demons.
  • Featurette: "'Rebel Without a Cause': Defiant Innocents" (SD, 37 minutes) – This introspective 2005 featurette goes beneath the film's surface as screenwriter Stewart Stern talks about the development of the "operatic" story, its personal nature, and how he identified with both Jim and Plato. (Stern states he originally wanted to kill off Jim in the script, but Warner Bros vetoed the idea as too downbeat.) Among other things, we learn about the mass auditions for all the teen parts, how Natalie Wood had to fight for the role of Judy to break free of the adolescent typecasting that plagued her, and how 'Rebel' began its life as a black-and-white B picture, but was elevated to color and A status after Dean appeared poised for stardom. The most salacious detail, however, concerns Dennis Hopper's recollection of his on-set affair with Wood, and how, at the same time, the 16-year-old actress was also sexually involved with her 44-year-old director. Consequently, tension erupted between Hopper and Ray, and reportedly Hopper's role in the film was severely reduced as a result.
  • Featurette: "Dennis Hopper: Memories from the Warner Lot" (HD, 11 minutes) – The one new featurette to grace this collection, this 2010 piece allows the actor the opportunity to reminisce about his experiences making both 'Rebel' and 'Giant,' as well as the wondrous atmosphere of Warner's Burbank studio. Though his tenure at Warner was brief, Hopper recalls it with great fondness, and his enthusiasm and charisma enhance this personal remembrance.
  • Screen Test (SD, 6 minutes) – Filmed in black-and-white, this polished and involving test focuses on Sal Mineo, but Dean and Wood provide critical and expert support.
  • Wardrobe Test (SD, 5 minutes) – Unlike the wardrobe tests on the 'East of Eden' disc, this one is in black-and-white ('Rebel' was originally slated to be filmed in black-and-white) and features some sound, so we hear the off-camera instructions and better appreciate the interplay between the actors.
  • Black & White Deleted Scenes Without Sound (SD, 10 minutes) – These five excised scenes and snippets were all filmed at the Griffith Park Planetarium, and are a collection of establishing shots and alternate angles. Interesting, but not noteworthy.
  • Color Deleted Scenes Without Sound (SD, 13 minutes) – These 11 brief color scenes span a multitude of locations, but don't convey much information. The final selection is billed as an alternate ending, and offers a different fate for Plato. Otherwise, these scenes are fairly ho-hum.
  • Vintage Featurettes: "Behind the Cameras" (SD, 22 minutes) – Three black-and-white segments of a promotional Warner Bros television program, hosted by actor Gig Young, highlight 'Rebel Without a Cause.' The first documents the deployment and arrival of a fleet of studio trucks to the Griffith Park Planetarium for a day of location shooting, and includes a brief lunchtime chat with Natalie Wood. The second takes a peek inside the Warner story department and features an obviously scripted interview with comedian Jim Backus, who discusses his crossover dramatic role. The final installment duplicates and expands on the story department segment, shows the chicken race scene from 'Rebel,' then segues into a public service announcement about safe driving in the guise of an interview between Young and Dean, who's dressed in a cowboy costume from 'Giant.' Shot just a few days before Dean's death in an automobile accident, reportedly caused in part by Dean driving 30 miles-per-hour over the speed limit, it's a bit eerie to see Dean warn against the dangers of reckless driving and vehemently state that he never speeds on the highway.
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) – The original preview for 'Rebel Without a Cause' touts Dean's electricity and the story's relevance and emotional impact.

'Giant'

  • Introduction by George Stevens Jr. (SD, 3 minutes) – Filmed in 1996, this heartfelt introduction by Stevens' son covers the movie's main themes, and notes how the production overcame "weather, sickness, and even death" to become the most successful picture in Warner Bros history to date. The younger Stevens also reveals "respect for the audience" was the most important thing he learned from his father.
  • Audio Commentary – It's hard to keep an audio commentary interesting and involving over the course of 201 minutes, but George Stevens Jr., 'Giant' screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and film historian Stephen Farber do a damn good job, combining scene-specific remarks with anecdotes, analysis, and a deep appreciation for Stevens' talent, drive, and commitment to his craft. The trio examines Stevens' understated but still cinematic style, aversion to CinemaScope, stoic personality, and penchant for shooting a scene from every conceivable angle. (Stevens shot 875,000 feet of film on 'Giant' - that's eight times more than the norm - and the editing and sound process took a full year.) We also learn about various casting possibilities, the "spirit of Rembrandt" lighting that distinguished most of the interior scenes, problems with Eastmancolor rendering inferior hues, friction between Stevens and Dean on the set, and how actress Carroll Baker was older than Elizabeth Taylor, who played her mother in the film. Stevens Jr. also relates how the cast and crew learned of and dealt with Dean's death, and how a particular scene of Dean's had to be dubbed by another actor in post-production. This is an excellent commentary with very few gaps, and fans of 'Giant,' George Stevens, and filmmaking will find it a worthwhile time investment.
  • Documentary: "George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him" (SD, 46 minutes) – This 2001 documentary is comprised entirely of outtakes from interviews conducted for 'George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey,' and features insightful comments by an impressive array of Hollywood craftsmen. Frank Capra terms Stevens one of the best comedy directors of all time; Alan J. Pakula remarks on Stevens' fascination with the outsider, and ability to find truth; Joseph L. Mankiewicz recalls his humor; and Rouben Mamoulian lauds his inimitable style. Warren Beatty, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Wise, and others also reminisce about Stevens' stoic personality, supreme artistry, and commitment to film preservation. A few film clips and photos enhance this thoughtful, intimate study of one of America's finest directors.
  • Documentary: "Memories of 'Giant'" (SD, 52 minutes) – Anecdotes abound in this absorbing 1998 retrospective, which features reminiscences from George Stevens, Jr., Carroll Baker, Earl Holliman, Jane Withers, and - in archival footage - Rock Hudson. All express great regard for Stevens as a director, and recall the production as a happy, rewarding experience. Withers remembers bonding with Taylor over children and flowers, and how it took a while to crack Dean's shy, reserved shell, while Baker says Dean was "not easy to know" and seemed unhappy about what he felt was his inferior portrayal of Jett as an older man. The two women also touchingly recall how they learned of Dean's death from Stevens. A jovial Hudson remembers shooting the wedding scene with Taylor when both were hung over, and all the participants share memories of the town of Marfa, the film's primary location. Rare color home movies, shot by Withers, enhance this reflective piece, which engenders further respect for Stevens as both a director and man.
  • Documentary: "Return to 'Giant'" (SD, 55 minutes) – This 1996 documentary strongly focuses on the town of Marfa, and how the Hollywood invasion shaped and influenced its residents, many of whom are on hand to share their experiences and reflections. Though Edna Ferber's novel painted an unflattering portrait of the Lone Star State and exploited its many stereotypes, much to the chagrin of native Texans, Stevens' adaptation was warmly received and ultimately came to be known as "the national movie of Texas." Stevens kept the 'Giant' set open so residents could feel a part of the production, and the accessibility of the cast enhanced the intimate environment. Many of the actors recall how they got their respective parts, while others discuss Stevens' perfectionism and meticulous nature. (He reportedly shot more than 800,000 feet of film and took a year to edit 'Giant.') A good portion of the documentary focuses on Dean, and though many of the same interviews that were eventually used in "Memories of 'Giant'" are employed here as well, there's enough fresh material to warrant at least one viewing.
  • Vintage TV Program: "New York Premiere Telecast" (SD, 29 minutes) – Actor Chill Wills and actress Jayne Meadows host the glamorous red carpet premiere of 'Giant,' which was also a benefit for the charitable cause of muscular dystrophy. A parade of stars march before the microphones to say a few words, including Stevens, Hudson, studio chief Jack Warner, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker, Natalie Wood, Jane Withers, composer Dimitri Tiomkin, Virginia Mayo, Dennis Hopper with date Joanne Woodward, Fernando Lamas, and Ethel Waters. Eagle eyes will also catch a brief glimpse of Marilyn Monroe as she arrives at the theater. Though some of the chatter is awkward, this rare program is still a treat for stargazers and a welcome addition here.
  • Vintage Newsreel Footage: "Hollywood Premiere" (SD, 4 minutes) – This premiere wrap-up covers both the New York and Hollywood openings of 'Giant,' and provides clips of many of the stars who attended. Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd, Oscar Hammerstein II, and columnist Elsa Maxwell are shown entering the Roxy Theater in New York, while such luminaries as Stevens, Hudson, Jack Warner, Jane Withers, Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Ernest Borgnine, Ann Miller, Ann Blyth, Anne Baxter, Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, Howard Keel, and Kathryn Grayson participate in the gala festivities outside the famed Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
  • Vintage Newsreel Clip: "'Giant' Stars Are Off to Texas" (SD, 1 minute) – Studio chief Jack Warner hosts a bon voyage banquet for the cast and crew of 'Giant,' and newsreel cameras capture Taylor, Hudson, Dean, and Stevens enjoying the send-off.
  • Stills and Documents – More than 50 images - all except one are in black-and-white - comprise the stills gallery, and consist mostly of behind-the-scenes shots and publicity portraits. Taylor, Hudson, and Dean are featured prominently, but several supporting players appear as well, as does Stevens and even writer Edna Ferber, who penned the original novel and made a rare visit to the set. The documents gallery reproduces several pieces of correspondence between Stevens and studio chief Jack Warner, along with salary sheets and other production minutia. Warner expresses concern over the movie's potential length, escalating budget, and editing delays in a series of colorful memos, and congratulates Stevens after he wins the Best Director Academy Award.
  • Vintage Featurette: "Behind the Cameras": On Location in Marfa, Texas" (SD, 6 minutes) – This episode of the weekly Warner promotional TV series, hosted by actor Gig Young, documents the excitement that swept over the small Texas town that served as the primary 'Giant' location. Residents are seen welcoming the cast and crew, serving as extras, and waiting patiently for autographs. Some on-set footage enhances this atmospheric piece.
  • Vintage Featurette: "Behind the Cameras: A Visit with Dimitri Tiomkin" (SD, 7 minutes) – In this episode, Young interviews the Academy Award-winning Russian-born composer of the 'Giant' score, and talks with him about his affinity for creating American folk music. Tiomkin also plays portions of a couple of 'Giant' themes on the piano and banters a bit with Young.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD, 11 minutes) – Four previews are included. The 1956 "book" trailer features no scenes from the film; it hypes the production through text and illustrations presented in book form. The original 1956 theatrical trailer incorporates elements from the book trailer into this more traditional preview that also includes some alternate takes. Interestingly, the 1963 reissue trailer focuses exclusively on the pairing of "Liz and Rock," and doesn't even mention the participation of Dean, while the 1970 reissue trailer spotlights Dean to the exclusion of other cast members, calling him "the star who became a legend, who spoke for all the restless young as no one has before or since."
  • "A Giant Undertaking" – Divided into six sections, this text-based supplement begins with a brief professional biography of Stevens, then features quotes from Stevens, Hudson, and Dean about various aspects of the movie.
  • Credit Listings – A George Stevens filmography, awards listing, and cast and crew listing complete the disc extras.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.

Final Thoughts

Much more than a mythic figure and symbol of rebellious youth, James Dean was a damn fine actor. His exceptional range, naturalistic style, and emotional intensity span the ages, and his trio of major films remain a timeless testament to his talent. Though his death at age 24 spawned a legend, the reason Dean is still relevant today is because of his work, and 'James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition' celebrates the man and his memorable performances. This seven-disc box set, which also includes glossy photographs, reproductions of movie posters and studio correspondence, and a lavishly illustrated hardcover book, is a must for any Dean admirer. Featuring pristine video transfers, high-quality audio, and more than 12 hours of extras, this is indeed the ultimate tribute to one of cinema's true icons, and it comes very highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • 7-Disc Set (3 Blu-rays + 4 DVDs)
  • 40-page Hardcover Commemorative Book
  • Three Mini Reproductions of the Original Theatrical Movie Posters
  • Authentic Production Memos from East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause
  • Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.55:1 (East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause)
  • 1.85:1 (Giant)

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround (East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause)
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo (Giant)
  • French Dolby Digital 3.0 (East of Eden)
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Rebel Without a Cause and Giant)
  • Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Recently Recovered Outtakes for Rebel Without a Cause
  • Behind the Cameras Episodes
  • Return to Giant Featurette
  • Memories of Giant Featurette
  • Giant Wardrobe Tests
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Three Feature-Length Documentaries on 3 Separate DVDs: James Dean: Sense Memories; James Dean: Forever Young; and George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey
  • Vintage Documentaries: James Dean Remembered; Forever James Dean; and George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him
  • All-New Featurette: Dennis Hopper: Memories from the Warner Lot
  • East of Eden: Art in Search of Life
  • Premiere Footage for East of Eden
  • Screen Tests and Deleted Scenes for East of Eden
  • Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents
  • Recently Recovered Screen Tests for Rebel Without a Cause

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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