The Complete James Dean Collection

The biggest no-brainer of the year, in terms of a box set — after all, James Dean only made three feature films, in the span of two years, before his death in a car crash in 1955. But Warner has done all three up right; for the man who's had more air time in death analysing his impact than he ever had on screen, we're given a more complete picture of his world: as an actor, an artist, a recluse and a speed freak (in the racing, not the narcotic sense). What might shock later generations who only know his iconic, tough guy image is how sensitive a character and an actor Dean was in all three of his feature roles. And in all three — East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant — he plays young men crippled by stultifying relationships with their fathers, something Dean knew all too well. East of Eden, the only film actually released theatrically before his death (Giant was still shooting, though his scenes were complete, when he died), is also his best. Based on John Steinbeck's novel, in the hands of director Elia Kazan, Dean tears into his role of Cal, the forgotten son of a hardened entrepreneur. But it was Rebel Without A Cause that gave him his image and his fame, despite the fact that the title was forced on the film by the studio against director Nicholas Ray's wishes, thus changing 20th century social history forever. In Rebel, Dean plays not an individual but a symbol of an entire disaffected generation whose affluence was no salve to their sense of hopelessness. (Its legacy includes at least one film per generation, from The Graduate to The Breakfast Club.) Though his is ostensibly a supporting role in Giant, the fact that Dean stands tall with established screen stars Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor speaks volumes about his talent; the fact that the film, about three generations of Texan families, was edited after his death probably contributed to the film's nearly unbearable three-plus-hour running time (likely to cram in as much Dean as they could to beef up his role). The temptation to overdo the misty-eyed memorials on these three two-disc reissues was probably overwhelming; Dean does get his tearful due, no doubt, but each one still keeps a foot solidly in the subject at hand: the work. The Dean that emerges through these testimonials remains to a great extent a mystery and it's fascinating how many of his so-called friends have completely opposite views on who he was. But what remains on screen, presented in glorious new transfers here, is one of the century's great acting talents. Plus: commentary, vintage docs and new analysis, deleted scenes, screen tests and premiere footage on all three films. (Warner)