When it comes to actors who have left a legacy in Hollywood, very few can compare to the distinct career that James Dean had. With an extremely short career of only three films, Dean was nonetheless able to make an indelible mark on the world of cinema. Born on the 8th of February, 1931, in the city of Marion, Indiana in the United States, James Dean continues to be one of the most profound and beloved film actors to have graced the silver screen.
James Dean started his acting career in 1955 playing the role of Cal Trask in Elia Kazan’s classic East of Eden. It was the first film where Dean’s trademark characteristics of teenage angst and frustration were first displayed. He excelled in the role and it remains a superb introduction to any newcomer to James Dean’s filmography. His performance was widely recognized as the start of a new acting talent and was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. The first time a nomination was given to an actor after his passing.
However, it was his turn as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) that fully solidified his legendary status and made him one of Hollywood’s eternal actors. Here, Dean completely embraces his character’s rebelliousness, delivering one of cinema’s most iconic and magnetic performances ever. The film also starred Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and a young Dennis Hopper. It is my favorite Dean film and one I enjoy revisiting quite often as I cannot get enough of Dean’s performance. An enduring classic.
His last film was an epic of all proportions. Directed by George Stevens, Giant (1956) did not only live up to its name with a sprawling runtime of over three hours but also with a cast that featured three Hollywood legends: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and, of course, James Dean.
The film revolves around the life of a Texas cattle rancher (Hudson) along with his family and associates. The film is truly excellent, though one does feel the length of the picture, which is something that is inevitable. But, that seems irrelevant as Giant manages to take the viewer on a journey that is quite memorable.
Dean plays the role of Jett Rink, a young ranch hand, who suddenly discovers oil and becomes rich overnight. James Dean delivers another excellent performance here and is one of the many things that makes Giant such a superb picture. Indeed, Dean received his second posthumous Best Actor Oscar nomination as a result.
I still remember watching James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause for the first time and being totally blown away by his performance. He is so natural playing those brooding and confused characters. Dean also had the power to totally mesmerize the viewer with such ease. Only few actors and actresses have been blessed with this gift. His acting was truly something else.
The world of cinema will never give us another James Dean. He is one of a kind and no other actor will be able to replicate him. Dean is an actor who has not only given us three great films but whose premature death led to him inevitably creating a legacy that is still felt today. His death came as a result of a horrific car crash in 1955, when he was only 24 years old.
I like to think of him as a younger version of Marlon Brando, another actor who has mastered the technique of ‘method acting’. But I think with him dying at such a young age, he became much more than just another great actor. He has grown to be a symbol of rebelliousness and non-conformity. Without a doubt, James Dean has and always will be a timeless icon for us all.
East of Eden (1955)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
“I don’t want any kind of love anymore!” scene from East of Eden (1955)
His scene with Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (1956)
“The Chicken Game” scene from Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
- 1956: Best Actor in a Leading Role for East of Eden (1955) (Nominated)
- 1957: Best Actor in a Leading Role for Giant (1956) (Nominated)