(out of 5)
My favourite James Dean performance (of the mere three main roles he played) is in this superbly brilliant adaptation of part of John Steinbeck’s novel. He and Richard Davalos play religiously upstanding Raymond Massey‘s two sons, Davalos the good one with a strong moral character, and Dean the one who is no good and is always getting into trouble. Their situation comes to a head when Dean discovers that his mother (Jo Van Fleet) , whom he and his brother thought died at their birth, is actually alive and living in a neighbouring town as a brothel madam, while their father invests all their savings in a vegetable refrigeration scheme that backfires in his face. Julie Harris is superb as Davalos’s girlfriend who can’t resist the sympathy she feels for Dean, while Van Fleet won an Academy Award for a most impressive film debut performance; aside from a few other appearances she only has one major scene in the whole thing, but it’s the scene that sells the picture. Beautifully photographed and incredibly complex and compelling (particularly for 1955), it’s the strongest argument for telling us what the world lost when Jimmy Dean died young and became a plastic icon instead of the full-blooded actor he really was.
Directed by Elia Kazan
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Produced by Elia Kazan
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone
Film Editing by Owen Marks