12 user 3 critic

James Dean (1976)

A dramatization of the story of legendary movie actor James Dean. The film's writer, William Bast, had roomed with Dean in the early '50s, when both were trying to break into films as actors.




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Cast overview, first billed only:
... William Bast
... James Dean
... Beverly
Julian Burton ... Ray
... Chris White
... James Whitmore
... Dizzy Sheridan
... Claire Folger
... Norma Jean
Robert Kenton ... Mechanic
... Reva Randall
... Jan (as Heather Menzies)
Jack Murdock ... Judge
James O'Connell ... Mr. Robbins
... Arlene


A dramatization of the story of legendary movie actor James Dean. The film's writer, William Bast, had roomed with Dean in the early '50s, when both were trying to break into films as actors.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Biography | Drama


PG-13 | See all certifications »




Release Date:

19 February 1976 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

James Dean: Portrait of a Friend  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Christine White, who plays a secretary, was once James Dean's real-life girlfriend. They were accepted into the Actors Studio together. See more »


[opening narration]
Narrator: His name was James Byron Dean. He was an actor. He died in 1955 at the age of 24. He had starred in just three pictures, only one of which had been released prior to his death. Yet before he was in his grave he was already a myth. What you are about to see is one man's recollection - an image of the actor as seen through the eyes of a friend. Like all memories in is intensely personal, elusive and incomplete - yet it refuses to die.
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User Reviews

"Elusive...and incomplete"
11 September 2017 | by See all my reviews

Seriously sensitive TV-movie starring Stephen McHattie as actor James Dean and Michael Brandon as William Bast, a fellow student at UCLA and Dean's pre-stardom roommate. The film chronicles Dean's inauspicious work as a drama student--doing shaky Shakespeare on stage--and the years following once Dean relocated to New York City and was accepted into the exclusive Actor's Studio, which lead him to Broadway and then back to Hollywood. Bast himself wrote the teleplay, and he's very careful to show the many complex sides of Dean--the prankster, the romantic, the artist committed to his craft, the jerk--as well as the "Star Is Born"-like friendship which developed between the two men. Bast, a failed actor who took on writing jobs, grew to respect and love his friend, however, without any apparent envy or jealousy (although he's often shown playing the third wheel). Brandon has a tough job acting as the author's surrogate, but he does so without self-pity; his acceptance of his friend as America's newest star is casual and natural, with no melodrama. The film begins with a symbolic dream (never a good idea) and features sketchy episodes with a handful of the women in Dean's life, but the main focus is on the relationship between Dean and Bast, and in those sequences the movie shines. McHattie, whose thin smile curls up at the corners like the Joker, bears a passing resemblance to Dean when seen from a distance, but up close he has to overcome features which are too pronounced; it's not an impersonation, and yet the performance we do get slowly grows on you. "James Dean" is an unusually literate and thoughtful drama, with an excellent supporting cast including Dane Clark, Meg Foster, Brooke Adams, Amy Irving, Katherine Helmond, Candy Clark and Leland Palmer.

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