Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to say that it had to happen. And it has.
A while ago we ran blogs raising the point that James Dean’s acting reputation is overblown. See James Dean — Really A Good Actor?, Sept. 22, 2011; and the following Oct. 12’s Readers Sound Off — About James Dean and MGM.
Until the last week or so, our Dean criticisms were met with, shall we say, a muted reader response. But that has changed.
To provide some backround, we’ll cover just a bit of what we wrote about Dean earlier. The pictures that made Dean were three: director Elia Kazan’s “East of Eden,” Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without A Cause” with Natalie Wood (both in 1955) and George Stevens’ “Giant,” released after the actor’s death. Dean was nominated in the best actor Oscar category for the first and the third but didn’t win.
For our money, Rock Hudson walked off with “Giant,” handily out performing costars Elizabeth Taylor and Dean. It was pretty much all Dean’s show in the other two films. Taking a hard nosed look at “Eden” and “Rebel” today prompts the notion that dying early might have been a terrific career move.
Dean’s performances in each film are certainly competent, but unquestionably marred by Methody acting schtick that was considered at the time the mark of a truly serious actor.
There is a self-indulgent, almost infantile aspect to Deans’s performances, particularly in “Rebel,” that’s off putting. Some contemporary viewers might react by giving his character — and perhaps Dean himself — a swift kick in his pants with the admonition, Grow up!
Well, our views were echoed by one reader, and chastized by another. Since we love to receive reader responses (good, bad or indifferent) we are running each below. Off key writes the following:
I can’t stand James Dean. Icon, genius, legend etc. I’ve heard it all. He bothers me. Always has.
Fair enough, Off key. But forgetting the Dean hype, why does he bother you so?
Ok, now to a lengthy response from another reader, Anonymous:
Guys…let’s cut the BS. Your semantically wanking off with the “legend” vs. “actor” argument….it’s lame. Who the hell do you think your talking about here? Michael Parks? Christopher Jones? JAMES DARREN?
Just admit it…you’re threatened by the attraction you don’t want to admit you so deeply have. Remarks like “oh-so vulnerable looks” give the game away, as well as such gems as “Methody-schtick” and “Rock Hudson’s the best thing in “Giant”. That remark would get you laughed out of the dumbest film school in Iowa, let alone about 99.9% of the planet’s blogs, male or female. ROCK HUDSON? Please.
You just got some… “tinglies” you can’t face….I understand…it’s a “macho” thing, well enough understood in this particular instance. But don’t confuse your subjective fears with what’s objective reality.
C’mon, just grow up! Even (John) Gielgud and (Laurence) Olivier knew that he was immensely gifted. (Marlon) Brando was scared of him. (Montgomery) Clift, too. Look it up. And let’s see…he’s only been unequaled by about a half-century of all the unbearably awful (Robert) Pattinson stryrofoam debris that’s followed. And he never will be.
Yeah, I think the term “genius” just maybe MIGHT apply, despite all the bad shopping bag and t-shirt merch. Mozart has bad merch. Would you call Mozart “schitcky”? And by the way…he died at 24, not 25. Someone needs a good swift kick in the…oh, you know….tush. (Hey, by the way, you did know that Elvis called him a “genius”, too, didn’t you? Didn’t you?)
Well, Anonymous, where to start? The gist of your response is that our questioning of Dean’s abilities is largely due to repressed or subliminal sexual reasons that we don’t wish to fess up to. As you put it — c’mon, just grow up!
What we write on any given topic is precisely what we think. No routing around in “subtexts” or hidden meanings necessary. While it’s nice to know that Elvis regarded Dean a “genius,” we would have preferred a more rational defense of Dean’s ability in your response. Sorry we didn’t get it. But you are among friendly movie lovers, here, and thanks for writing in.