9 August 2002 | Thalberg
An early James Dean TV performance, now available on DVD
James Dean is the only reason to view this film, a dark, grainy kinescope of a 1954 General Electric Theater adaptation of Sherwood Anderson's classic short story, "I'm a Fool." You can't help but notice his remarkable command of his voice, his facial expressions, and especially his body. And he was only 23 years old! It is tempting sometimes to think of Dean's posthumous fame as a product of his tragic death, but he was the real thing, a brilliant, instinctive artist who would have rivaled Brando and Newman as the leading actor of his generation if he had survived.
Unfortunately, this adaptation departs significantly from Anderson's story, perhaps due to budgetary. Live TV drama was a low budget affair, and that probably didn't matter much if the material was appropriate to the form. But Anderson's story was so good that it seems a shame to change it, and especially to leave out key scenes.
If you're interested in seeing a very good version of "I'm a Fool," check out the one that Ron Howard starred in for PBS's 1970s "American Short Story" series. Howard is no James Dean, but he is a more than proficient actor, well suited to the part, and everything else about this second version of "I'm a Fool" is far superior to the one in which Dean starred -- including the color photography and video transfer. So far as I know it isn't available in DVD, but the VHS version remains in circulation.
And read Sherwood Anderson's short story, too. It is a small masterpiece by a great American writer whose work hasn't often been adapted to film.