James Dean: Race With Destiny (1997)
Also known as James Dean: Live Fast, Die Young, this biopic could just have easily been titled 'The Pier Angeli Story'. Not only does Angeli’s character share virtually the same amount of screen time as Dean’s, the film is narrated by her and ends with quotes professing her undying love for him. Yet despite the apparent depth of their feelings, this depiction of their relationship remains a very shallow affair.
After an awkwardly staged meeting where Angeli’s beauty literally knocks Dean off his feet, the two young actors go on their first date. By way of exposition, Dean woos Angeli with tales of his dead mother and insensitive father. Unable to resist such romancing, it’s not long before Angeli is calling Dean ‘baby’ while Dean calls her ‘Ma’. But Angeli’s mother disapproves of her daughter’s new boyfriend and conspires to drive the two apart.
Perhaps pairing them in a biopic may have done the trick, for real-life husband and wife Casper Van Dien and Carrie Mitchum split shortly after this film’s completion. In his portrayal of the 50’s icon, the closest Van Dien comes to resembling Dean is the similarity of their surnames. Mitchum at least adopts an Italian accent for her portrayal of Angeli, though it’s a close call as to whether hers or Diane Ladd’s is less convincing.
Regrettably, this biopic features the last performance by Robert Mitchum. One can only assume he took the role as a favour to his granddaughter.
as James Dean
as Pier Angeli
as Natalie Wood
as Sal Mineo
James Dean did not win a Tony Award.
No scene recreations from Dean’s movies, but the biopic does recreate a featurette Dean filmed with Gig Young for his upcoming film Giant.