James Dean (2001)

This biopic was James Franco’s breakthrough. His anguished depiction of the fallen star garnered wide praise and awards. Yet it’s a highly mannered performance, complete with mumbled speech, perpetually raised eyebrows and slouched shoulders. While the physical resemblance between the two James’ helps to a point, there is little to suggest why Dean became such an icon after only three movies.

 

The film opens brilliantly with a scene recreation from East of Eden. Respected film actor Raymond Massey, who is portraying the father of James Dean’s character, is bewildered and outraged by this strange newcomer. The father/son relationship depicted in East of Eden is well served by this friction, but the reverse is not true when the biopic flashes back to Dean’s own childhood.

In an effort to draw a direct parallel between Dean’s strained relationship with his own father and the characters Dean portrayed, the biopic belabours the point. The scene recreated from Rebel Without a Cause has Dean fighting with his screen father, and never mind that Dean’s character in Giant didn’t have an onscreen father. Dean explains, via a mundane narration, that the film’s director reminded him of his father.

 

The final denouement between Dean and his father provides the biopic with some of the emotion found in its opening scene, yet an end credit informs us that, like much of what went beforehand, it doesn’t quite ring true.

cast, james franco, Pier Angeli, Edward Herrmann, Raymond Massey
James Franco
James Franco

as James Dean

Valentina Cervi
Valentina Cervi

as Pier Angeli

Edward Herrmann
Edward Herrmann

as Raymond Massey

Wendy Benson-Landes
Wendy Benson-Landes

as Julie Harris

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fact check, factcheck, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

The revelation between father and son at the movie’s end has no basis in fact and is, at best’ "an educated guess".

James Dean and Rogers Brackett met in California in 1951, before Dean moved to New York and auditioned for the Actor’s Studio.

 

Nicholas Ray did not start wearing an eye-patch until more than fifteen years after filming Rebel without a Cause.

film clip, scene comparison, video, east of eden, rebel without a cause

Clip courtesy of Dimitri Bitu

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