September 30, 1955
|September 30, 1955|
|Directed by||James Bridges|
|Produced by||Jerry Weintraub|
|Written by||James Bridges|
|Music by||Leonard Rosenman|
|Edited by||Jeff Gourson|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
On September 30, 1955, in Conway, Arkansas, college student Jimmy J. watches the film East of Eden, alone in a theater. The next day at football practice, he hears that the film's star, James Dean, has been killed. He runs to the local radio station, desperate to learn the details.
Jimmy J. calls his friend Billie Jean, a working-class girl who also admires Dean. Jimmy J. takes Billie Jean, his girlfriend Charlotte, his roommate Hanley, and another college couple, Frank and his girlfriend Pat, off-campus. They buy some food and Jimmy J. steals some liquor. They party near the Arkansas River, where Jimmy J. grows upset that his friends do not understand the depth of his grief. When Frank belittles Jimmy J. for caring so much about someone he has never met, Jimmy J. explains that he has seen East of Eden four times, while Billie Jean admits to seeing it 22 times; they have been anticipating the release of Dean's Rebel Without a Cause, later that month.
Jimmy J. sculpts an Academy Award statuette out of mud, strips to his underwear and conducts a ceremony to summon Dean's spirit. A dog barks in the distance and he perceives the bark as a sign. The police arrive, but the group escapes back to town, where Frank and Pat tell Jimmy J. that he is disturbed. Charlotte agrees to let Jimmy J. continue the séance at her house later.
Returning to his dormitory, Jimmy J. is surprised that his mother, little brother and aunt have come to take him to a movie. His mother is disappointed by his dirty appearance and worries that he will end up a loser like his estranged father. Jimmy J. calls Billie Jean and invites her to Charlotte's for the séance. Coach Haynes arrives to confront Jimmy J., disciplining him for leaving football practice the previous morning.
Fellow student Eugene joins Jimmy J. and Hanley, and they stop to pick up Billie Jean, finding her dressed like the character Vampira, wearing heavy makeup and a black cape. She attempts to seduce Jimmy J., but he rebuffs her. At Charlotte's, Billie Jean darkens the room, lights candles, and clears the furniture. When Charlotte and Jimmy J. are alone, she confronts him about Billie Jean, but he states that, while he is untrustworthy, like his father, he has not had sex with Billie Jean. When the group uses a Ouija board to contact Dean, only Jimmy J. and Billie Jean feel his presence.
That night, the group wreaks havoc at the local cemetery, but when the police arrive, Billie Jean drops a candelabrum and her cape catches on fire, leaving her badly burned.
Three weeks later, at the homecoming parade, Jimmy J. arrives on a motorcycle, sees Charlotte riding a float, and climbs aboard to speak with her. He confronts her for breaking up with him, kisses her, and climbs down. Hanley spots Jimmy J. and greets him warmly as Frank and Pat ride past in the parade, with Frank yelling that he thought Jimmy J. was kicked out of school.
Jimmy J. visits Billie Jean, who is home from the hospital and has not spoken since the accident. She is nearly covered in bandages. He confesses that he went to see Rebel Without a Cause the previous night, watching it four times so that he could tell her all the details. He recounts how the movie parallels his own life and explains that he is responsible for Billie Jean's injuries the same way Dean's character is responsible for Plato's death. He asks her forgiveness, as he is leaving for California to visit the spot where Dean died. Speaking for the first time, Billie Jean yells at him to "stop it", and tells him that she is being sent to a sanitorium for electro-shock treatment. Her mother, Melba Lou, is mad that Jimmy J. has upset her daughter. Mother and daughter both tell Jimmy J. that life is not a movie and he leaves.
Watching the homecoming football game from a distance, Jimmy J. watches Charlotte's coronation as football queen. He then rides off on his motorcycle, headed to California.
Filming of this movie was delayed for a year after Richard Thomas broke his ankle. Thomas had never ridden a motorcycle before and was practicing when he had an accident resulting in the ankle injury. The original cast included some Arkansas actors, including the part of Eugene. Unfortunately, the delay in filming coincided with the young Arkansas actors' growth spurt and the part of Eugene had to be re-cast.