Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wants a return to the Golden Age of Appetizers.
"Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine."—James Dean, in a highway safety PSA filmed shortly before his 1955 highway death
DVD buffs—and reviewers—always want more, more, more. Sometimes we get it. That's the case with James Dean: The Fast Lane. There's a documentary on the actor whose life was famously cut short by an automobile accident. You say you want to see more, some television appearances, perhaps? Fast Lane provides ten appearances from 1950s anthology shows, ranging from bit parts to major roles. Heck, there are three in a row in which he plays four guys named Joe, three in some kind of trouble with the law. It also throws in a couple of commercials, including the infamous safe driving spot he filmed just before his death on the road. A quick look at IMDb shows that this isn't everything Dean did for television, but does appear to include everything Infinity Entertainment could find.
What more could you ask for? Kraft Television Theater includes the easy appetizer recipe given at the commercial break. Sadly, I don't see the "handy snack rolls" used to make them easy on Kraft's Web site, though.
James Dean: The Fast Lane has two discs:
• "Hill Number One"
• "Ten Thousand Horses Singing"
• "Abraham Lincoln"
• "The Evil Within"
• "Something For An Empty Briefcase"
• "Sentence of Death"
• "The Bells of Cockaigne"
• "I'm a Fool"
• "Highway Safety PSA"
• The James Dean Story
James Dean fans could get a kick out of these 1950s tidbits, but if you've been reading through the descriptions above, you'll note that he's barely a presence in some of these. Dean handles the few meaty roles he got well, which is especially notable considering that some were live broadcasts with short rehearsal times, and some of the scripts were just corny ("The Bells of Cockaigne" is Exhibit A here). That said, there are some decent dramas here if you're looking for more than just glimpses of Dean. Betsy Palmer plays a ditzy dame who shows unexpected steel in "Sentence of Death," and good performances make "Ten Thousand Horses Singing," "Abraham Lincoln," and "The Evil Within" worth a look. My favorite of Dean's appearances was "I'm a Fool," for several reasons: it's a good Dean performance that has some fun with his rebel persona, the performances are strong across the board, and it has a stylized production that takes full advantage of live drama technique. Each episode has a brief synopsis, mainly to help you spot Dean.
Picture and sound quality aren't optimal here. It looks like they were working mainly from kinescopes, and you'll find scratches, flickering black-and-white images, and even a couple of freezes. A few lines here and there get lost.
Fast Lane does what it set out to do, and does something more, giving viewers a sampling of the much-heralded era of live TV anthology series. For hardcore James Dean fans or anyone interested in 1950s TV anthologies, it's a good buy at under $15.
It may be just a curiosity, but I can't find any guilt here. Now if only
they'd have included some handy snack rolls and the easy appetizer recipes that
Kraft Television Theater viewers could send away for…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Infinity Entertainment
• IMDb: James Dean
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