James Dean (1976)

TV Movie   |  PG-13   |    |  Biography, Drama

James Dean (1976) Poster

A dramatization of the story of legendary movie actor James Dean. The film's writer, William Bast, had roomed with Dean in the early '50s, when both were trying to break into films as actors.


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31 July 2008 | wes-connors
| The Little Prince and The Fox
Not the life story of James Dean, but the story of Mr. Dean and writer William Bast. This is, in fact, their (partially veiled) love story. Mr. Bast was Dean's "best friend", "roommate", and/or "confidant" for the last five years of his life. James Dean and William Bast. Were they "just good friends" for five years? Not exactly. Bast wrote, and co-produced; and Robert Butler directed. The production is surprisingly high quality, considering the fact that this was a 1976 "TV movie". Frank Stanley's photography excels. It could have been a feature film. Perhaps, Bast preferred the guaranteed television audience, as a feature hinting at his sexual relationship with Dean would have been poorly received in most movie houses.

Michael Brandon (as Bast) and Stephen McHattie (as Dean) are very convincing, as the young friends. It's sometimes a little difficult to determine if the "The Little Prince and The Fox" knew what they were playing with fire; however, it seems obvious that director Butler had figured out Bast's direction. At first, it seems as if the duo's numerous lovely girlfriends are all Pier Angelis (red herrings); actually, they are realistic, and help explain the complicated Dean/Bast relationship.

The female supporting cast is pretty (and) numerous; Candy Clark (as Christine White) is one stand-out, believability-wise; note, the real-life Ms. White appears in a small role. Watch out for a very tender "barroom" scene with Leland Palmer (as Arlene), a disabled woman Dean takes for a ride.

Reality sets you free.

"James Dean" should have been nominated for several "Emmy" awards, especially considering the Brandon and McHattie lead performances, and the TV movie's relative production values. The film could be criticized for "holding back"; but, it could also be praised for being able to make its points without being explicit. Emotionally, at least, "James Dean" is clear; discerning what's left out isn't too difficult.

********* James Dean (2/19/76) William Bast ~ Michael Brandon, Stephen McHattie, Candy Clark, Leland Palmer

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