James Dean became first the personification of the young rebel and then – after his tragic early death – also a myth. James Dean did unfortunately only three movies (besides some diminutive roles that really can’t be counted as “James Dean movies”).
A star is born
His breakthrough on the screen was as Caleb “Sal” Trask in East of Eden (1955) and it may also be the greatest movie he was a part of. Dean himself makes a tremendous performance showing his enormous ability of vivid realization. He succeeds in providing his character with authentic sensibility and self-contempt. Sal in East of Eden has also many parallels to Deans own life, like for example the defective relation with the father and a missing mother.
The lost rebel
The second movie James Dean did is perhaps his most famous role, as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The plot centers on Jims problematic relationship with his parents and also antagonism to a gang in his new high school. In the process he finds two new friends: Plato (Sal Mineo) and Judy (Natalie Wood) which both had problems being young. Even that Rebel Without a Cause probably is the film that have aged the most among his films it was really ground breaking in 1955 by its content in the way it represented the teenager-parents problems.
The early ending
James Dean was now becoming a real star, but in his third movie he was after all no longer be biggest name and neither did he play the main role, Elisabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson did. In the ambitious epos Giant (1956) James Dean plays a character that more than anything want to move up in the world and accidentally he does so. After getting a small piece of land he unpredictably finds enough oil to become very rich.
Only days after the shooting for Giant was over Dean was killed in a car accident in California. He died young and in the way he burned fast instead of fading away he became in a way frozen in time as the young rebel.