September 30, 1955 (1978) B+
Set in Conway, Arkansas on the day Jimmy Dean died, “September 30, 1955” is a nicely acted melodrama about the impact of the iconic star, whose life was taken in a car crash, on a group of youngsters.
Sensitively written and directed by James Bridges, who previously made the Oscar-winning university drama, “The Paper Chase” (with John Houseman and Timotty Buttoms), this follow-up is a better movie: It’s taut, intimate, and poignant in the way that it depicts the interplay between film and real life.
This film, aired on TV as “24 Hours of the Rebel,” delves into the hero-worship aura that surrounded James Dean after his tragic death.
Richard Thomas, then known for the TV show “The Waltons,” is extremely well cast as Jimmy J. , who knows his hero’s best film, “East of Eden” by heart, havin g watched the film numerous times.
Shattered by the devastating news, Jimmy steal some booze and goes to the Arkansas River with his buddies, who are not as affected as he is; they think he is weird, or perhaps even sick.
Nontheless, he forces them into participating in a ritualistic ceremony (modeled on African rituals). They all join hands, and wait for a sign from the dead. During the drinking foray, the stupor comes more from their turbulent emotions than from the suds.
Jimmy’s girlfriend, Charlotte (Deborah Benson), represents another view, claiming that he’s just a normal boy who goes through a crisis, a phase.
But Jimmy’s real soulmate is Jean (Lisa Blount), who had outdone Jimmy: She watched “East of Eden” 22 times, and now claims to have heard the same sign from the dead, a dog barking.
James Bridges should be commended for hiring Leonard Rosenman, who scored the music for both “East of Eden” and Rebel Without a Cause” to d the soundtrack, which is evocative of 1950s Hollywood movies.
It’s hard to explian why “September 30, 1955” was a commercial flop, but DVD gives us a second chance to revisit this gem.
This film represents the screen debut of the gifted Dennis Quaid (younger brother of Randy) and also features great performances from Susan Tyrell and Tom Hulce.
MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 101 Minutes.
Directed and written by James Bridges
Released: August 1, 1977
DVD: September 17, 1992
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