James Dean: Live Fast and Die Young
Drama, Biography | 94 Mins | Released: 1997
Director: Mohammed Rustam
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Carrie Mitchum, Diane Ladd, Mike Conners, Robert Mitchum, Connie Stevens, Casey Kasem
Our Rating: 5
In James Dean: Live Fast and Die Young, Casper Van Dien stars as James Dean, whose remarkable talent and rebel attitude took Hollywood by storm. But as Dean’s star begins to rise, his passionate affair with Italian ingénue Pier Angeli (Carrie Mitchum) angers her disapproving mother (Diane Ladd) and studio chief Jack Warner (Mike Connors). How did a broken heart, reckless behavior and his relationships with Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and director George Stevens (the legendary Robert Mitchum in his final screen role) lead to Dean’s ultimate race with destiny? Connie Stevens, Joseph Campanella and Casey Kasem co-star in this revealing biopic that goes behind the myth to tell the true story of the superstar who lived fast, died young and left a legacy that changed movies forever.
James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American actor. He is a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement, as expressed in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled teenager Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his stardom were loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955) and surly ranch hand Jett Rink in Giant (1956). Dean’s enduring fame and popularity rest on his performances in only these three films.
Dean’s premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status. He became the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations. In 1999, theAmerican Film Institute ranked him the 17th best male movie star on their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list.
The real origin of “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse!”
The saying “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse!” is often wrongly attributed to actor James Dean.
Dean didn’t actually say it — at least not in his movies.
If you’re a classic movie buff, you may know that “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” is actually a famous line said by actor John Derek in the film Knock On Any Door, which premiered on February 21, 1949 and was released nationwide the next day.
It was the first major film role for Derek, who later married and guided the early film career of Bo Derek.
He plays Nick Romano, a young Italian hoodlum from the Chicago slums who is accused of killing a cop. Humphrey Bogart plays his attorney, Andrew Morton.
In the film, Nick tells his girlfriend that “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” is his motto in life.
This great noir movie is generally given credit as the origin of the famous line — which is now usually misquoted as “…leave a good-looking corpse!” (Instead of “have.”)
And, certainly, the movie made it a popular saying (either with “have” or “leave”).
However, Nick’s motto was first used two years earlier in the book the film was based on, Knock on Any Door by the African-American novelist Willard Motley (1912-1965).
In Motley’s 1947 novel, Nick Romano says his motto several times.
Back then, it was unusual for an African-American author to write a book in which the central characters were white. But Motley was ahead of his time in terms of color-blind thinking and the book became a popular bestseller.
When some color-sensitive critics complained about a “Negro” writing about white folks, Motley responded: “My race is the human race.”
Indeed, that empathetic concept is a central theme of the book and movie.
It is memorably summed up by Bogart in the film, when he says to the jury who will decide if Nick is executed: “Until we do away with the type of neighborhood that produced this boy, ten will spring up to take his place, a hundred, a thousand. Until we wipe out the slums and rebuild them, knock on any door and you may find Nick Romano.”
Quotation expert Ralph Keyes speculates in his book The Quote Verifier that Motley may have been “recycling street talk” when he wrote the line “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.”