James Dean Filmography

After landing a few small roles in television and theater productions, including a role in the short-lived 1952 Broadway drama See the Jaguar, Dean was cast as Cal Trask in director Elia Kazan’s 1955 film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Many of Dean’s scenes in the movie were unscripted improvisations.

Rebel Without a Cause

The film that launched Dean’s stardom and cemented his place as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment. The only movie Dean ever received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for, it’s also the most famous of all films that explore young misfits in troubled relationships (along with East of Eden and Giant).

In his first leading role, Dean was a natural as Jim Stark, an emotionally tortured teen who has no idea what he’s doing with his life. His performance is a raw, emotional, volatile, and sensitive one — he plays the part with real vulnerability. Director Elia Kazan encouraged Dean to use his personal experience to color the character on-screen — which irritated his fellow actors at times, but ultimately brought out Dean’s raw emotional power.

The movie itself is not without its outdated touches – these kids don’t listen to Bill Haley and the Comets but big-band swing — but it does illuminate the hot topic of juvenile delinquency that huffy authorities at the time blamed on everything from Bill Haley’s Comets to comic books. And it introduces a new form of acting believability to the screen, with a lineage that includes Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. A great flixtor film with a tremendously powerful lead performance by Dean, and one of the most iconic films of all time.

East of Eden

The film that launched Dean’s brief but brilliant career, East of Eden is a powerful adaptation of John Steinbeck’s semi-autobiographical novel about sibling rivalry, parental neglect, and moral deception. Featuring powerful performances from Dean and Jo Van Fleet, East of Eden explores the nature of good and evil in an era when Americans were still grappling with the implications of World War I.

The story revolves around the neurotic Cal Trask (Dean), the youngest son of lettuce farmer Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). The film’s two elder brothers – Aron (Richard Davalos in his acting debut) and Ethan (Julie Harris) – are both well-adjusted, religiously upright citizens who work hard on their father’s acreage. Cal, on the other hand, is a troubled youth with a rebellious streak, who spends time in a house of ill repute.

Despite the film’s melodramatic tone and occasional stiffness, director Elia Kazan’s use of off-kilter camera angles, and sweeping cinematography capture the complexities of family relationships, crippling insecurities, and growing up on the edge of the Garden of Eden. A powerful drama that addresses a variety of potent themes, including the nature of good and evil, and the thorny question of whether we can ever really know people. An essential classic that continues to resonate. Richard Schickel’s insightful and entertaining commentary is included on the 2013 Blu-ray release.


James Dean’s evocative performances in Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant – which was released posthumously – captured the angst and raw emotion of a generation. While he may be regarded as the quintessential troubled youth, Dean was a sophisticated actor with a gift for portraying characters with depth and complexity.

In the latter film, he plays Jett Rink, a nonconforming cowhand who strikes oil and rises to new wealth. Director George Stevens filmed much of the movie on location in Texas, capturing the scenery and the sense of timelessness.

According to Graham, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor grew to detest Dean’s antics during the shoot. He would mug, mumble and fumble with his lines, whereas his co-stars were more accustomed to reading from a script and hitting their marks.

After completing filming on Giant, Dean decided to return to California and compete in a race car competition. The event took place in Salinas, and Dean drove his Porsche Spyder there from Los Angeles. He was accompanied by stunt coordinator Bill Hickman and Rolf Wutherich, the German mechanic who maintained Dean’s car. On the way to Salinas, they were stopped by a police officer for speeding, and Dean was ticketed. The next day, he crashed his car near Cholame and was killed. The accident ended his brief but eventful racing career.

The Immoralist

In his second starring role, Dean portrayed sensitive high school misfit Jim Stark in director Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Dean’s performance spoke eloquently for disenchanted and disillusioned teenagers looking for a hero. The film made him a household name and propelled him to superstardom.

The Immoralist is the story of Michel, a man who breaks with conventional morality in his quest for self-fulfillment. The book’s central theme is repressed homosexuality, but Gide also explores themes of life versus death, mind versus body and the process of self-discovery.

Like most of Gide’s works, The Immoralist is a psychological study of one character’s evolution. Its intimacy and undistracted attention to Michel’s personal journey is a major strength of the novel.

Gide often uses nature to mirror Michel’s psychic state. He combines natural images of mountains and seas with Michel’s experiences of sexual freedom. Towards the end of the novel, Michel is weak at a watershed point, a Nietzschean hero in search of a soul.

Gide’s use of a frame narrative is effective in establishing the context for the story’s central plot. The narrative opens with a letter to an unnamed Monsieur D. R. from an unnamed friend of Michel’s who recounts that Michel summoned him and two other friends to North Africa to tell them his story.

mark harper

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