We're coming down to the final releases of 2013, but for me, Warner's newly released Blu-ray set of the three James Dean films, along with a myriad of extras, will be at or very near the top of the list.
After a number of performances, most of them on live television, James Dean's work remains, almost 60 years after his death in 1955, some of the most intriguing in the history of film.
He actually received credit in only three feature films, all produced by WB, and all released during a 19 month period between March of 1955 and October of 1956. The final two were posthumous.
I recall discussing the second film, Rebel Without a Cause with Mr. Mineo, after we screened my 16mm print at a gathering that he held in NY. It's been a few years, and I'm a bit hazy on details, but he had told me that either he had been unable to bring himself to view the film. Our screening was either the first time he had seen it or the first time since 1955.
The two other productions were East of Eden and Giant.
All three had extraordinary filmmakers at their helms -- Elias Kazan, Nicholas Ray and George Stevens.
From an archival perspective, the greatest problem with three films, is that they were photographed on early to mid-emulsion 5248 stock, and processed by one of the most problematic labs in the business, in WarnerColor.
It's a testament to Ned Price, and the staff at WB, that these new Blu-rays look as good as they do, and for the final film, Giant, quality is a fleeting thing.
As the most problematic of the three, Giant was negative cut and assembled for single strand, direct positive step-printing, and rather than short-cut what would have been printer functions, all fades and dissolves were cut long -- meaning entire shots were dupes. So rather than the audience seeing a jump-cut in quality, the quality of the dupes is merely continually poor.
That noted, let's take brief look at the three films.
The earliest East of Eden was a CinemaScope production, gorgeously photographed by Ted McCord. Mr. McCord's career began in the early 1920s, and ended in 1966. During those decades he is credited with 157 films, inclusive of a number of government shorts during WWII.
For those interested in specifics, Mr. McCord was behind the camera on some wonderful production, inclusive of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Flamingo Road, The Hanging Tree, and a little large format show, The Sound of Music. Although uncredited, he is noted as handling location camera on Giant.
East of Eden, was and is now, 4-track stereo.
The Blu-ray of EoE is generally magnificent. I'm seeing no problems. Grain levels are superb. Blacks are gorgeous -- take a look at Jo Van Fleet's dress in the opening scenes.
Rebel Without a Cause is another beautifully shot film, with Ernest Haller behind the camera.
Like Mr. McCord, Mr. Haller began his career in the early days -- 1918. His credits, which end in 1965, list 181 films, inclusive of the first version of The Dawn Patrol for Howard Hawks in 1930, The Emperor Jones, Captain Blood, Jezebel (one of my favorites of the era), The Roaring Twenties, Mildred Pierce, Saratoga Trunk, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Lilies of the Field, as well of one of the more important of the 3-strip Technicolor films shot in 1939 -- Gone with the Wind.
Rebel is another knockout of an image harvest from WB. I can honestly say that I've never seen any of these three films look better. Once again grain, black levels, color and overall detail are beautiful. Like East of Eden, the early CinemaScope anomalies are in place.
Giant was also photographed by a gentleman with a bit of experience, William C. Mellor. Mr. Mellor spent his first few years behind the camera as an operator, before making the move to DP. His early years were spent at Paramount, where he worked on Cleopatra (1934), The Song of Songs, The Great McGinty, Road to Morocco, A Place in the Sun, and later Love in the Afternoon, State Fair, and The Greatest Story Every Told. He was also behind the camera for much of Mr. Stevens' WWII documentary footage.
Which brings us to Giant, an image harvest with (based upon the original elements, not upon the way that they have been handled, had the highest highs and lowest lows. Take a good look at the beautiful grain structure of original photography, and you'll know you're seeing something very special. Unfortunately, some of the most iconic shots in the film, for example the entrance to Reata, are dupes, and naturally extremely soft.
For the record, there is nothing to be done about it.
The James Dean Collection is one of those big boxes from WB. And this time, it's not fluff. Everything inside is a quality affair.
Currently at Amazon for $90. Worth the price of admission?
No need to ask.
East of Eden
Image - 5
Audio - 5 (Stereo)
Rebel Without a Cause
Image - 5
Audio - 5 (Stereo)
Image - 5
Audio - 5
Along with the set, which is seven discs, three Blu-rays and four DVDs. one receives the James Dean bio from American Masters, James Dean Forever, a separate disc of Giant extras, and the wonderful documentary, George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey.
Three great films, from three great filmmakers, all of which have beautifully stood the test of time.
Very Highly Recommended.