By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 30, 2015)
60 years have passed since the day a 24 year-old rising star named James Dean put the pedal to the metal and “…bought it sight unseen” (as the song goes). At this point in time, the massive cult of personality surrounding him has arguably eclipsed the actual work, so it’s easy to forget that he only starred in three feature films. Two of those films were released posthumously, including this 1955 Nicholas Ray classic, which is being shown at SIFF via a newly restored print presented by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation.
Resplendently attired in his now-iconic blue jeans and blood-red jacket, Dean mopes, mumbles and generally masticates all available scenery in an archetypal performance as a “troubled youth” desperately trying to fit in…somewhere. While they have been traditionally stiffed by Dean’s legend, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo deliver equally outstanding and touching performances.
Modern audiences may snicker at the histrionics and soapy melodrama, but this was powerful stuff for its era, and there’s no denying Dean’s charisma, or the genuine chemistry between the three leads. Ray’s direction is rock solid; Ernest Haller’s cinematography is striking, with inspired use of many L.A. locales.