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DVD Review: James Dean – The Fast Lane

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James Dean was a cultural icon who flashed onto the scene in early 1955 and flashed off on September 30, 1955. On the way to a race at Salinas, California in his Porsche 550 Spyder, he was hit head on by a 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe when it crossed into Dean's lane without seeing him. Contrary to many beliefs, Dean was not speeding, but was traveling around the 55 mph speed limit.

James Dean is generally well known for the three major films that he made, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. The first two were released in 1955, and the third released in 1956, posthumously.

There were many other things that Dean did before and during these three major movies and James Dean: The Fast Lane brings these other works of the actor together in one package. Make one note — none of his major pictures are on this DVD, this set strictly contains his other works.

James Dean: The Fast Lane is a two-disc collection that contains almost nine hours of materials that takes you from his 1950 Pepsi commercial to his 1955 highway safety public service announcement that was filmed just 13 days before his death. In it he ironically ad libbed the line, "The life you might save might be mine."

This DVD also includes ten television appearances between 1951 and 1954 that include episodes of Armstrong's Circle Theater, Campbell Soundstage, Family Theater, General Electric Theater, Kraft Television Theater, Tales of Tomorrow and Westinghouse Studio One.

The DVD also includes trailers from the movies Fixed Bayonets (1951), Has Anyone Seen My Gal (1952), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), East of Eden (1955), and Giant (1956).

There is a bonus, full length film biography by six-time Academy Award-winning director Robert Altman. The James Dean Story (1957) includes personal interviews with Dean's family and friends.

James Dean: The Fast Lane is a collectible piece for those James Dean fans who can't get enough. Some of the early footage is not of high quality and neither is the sound. The problems arise from quality of the original footage and I think for many some of this will be hard to watch because of the quality.

There are some very interesting points like the Pepsi commercial and the highway safety PSA with the rest worth some nostalgic viewing. The best item in this set is the Altman film and, to me, makes this DVD a reasonable purchase for the price. It is well done and gives insight into James Dean soon after his death and before all of the hype and history can be altered.

If you are a die-hard James Dean fan, then this will no doubt be a must have purchase. If you have an interest in Dean and want to learn more, then this will certainly give you more insight into the man and his short life in film. For all others, the 81 minute Altman film will the main reason for purchase.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • Lee Raskin

    Contrary to what you say, James Dean was actually speeding in excess of the 50mph limit on CA 466 at the time of his fatal accient. A Porsche Spyder in 4th gear minimally had to be traveling at 5,000 rpm or 80 mph. See James Dean At Speed book with deposition and eyewitness testimony.
    Lee Raskin, Author and James Dean historian