Watching East of Eden — making its DVD debut in a two-disc set — it’s easy to see why James Dean set off a youthquake that still rumbles almost 50 years after his death at 24. As outsider Cal, he captures brooding, adolescent confusion with a seductive, rock-star charisma. Of course, he was lucky to have Elia Kazan guiding him and Julie Harris as his costar. Their scenes together, full of guarded longing, are sublime highpoints in a stirring, visually sophisticated film that feels thoroughly modern. (And Harris’ speech at the end always puts a lump in the throat.)
Considering the Dean hagiographic excess over the years, the extras are thankfully restrained. In addition to Richard Schickel’s analytical commentary, standouts include the ”Art in Search of Life” doc, in which Kazan gleefully recalls fueling the friction between Dean and on-screen father Raymond Massey. (”Do you think I would do anything to stop that antagonism? No, I increased it!. . .The absolute hatred. . .that’s precious, man!”) Alternate takes of Harris and Dean prepping for a party offer a fascinating glimpse of how actors affect dramatic impact with slight shifts of emphasis and pacing.