September 30, 1955 (1977)
When Jimmy's idol, James Dean, dies on September 30, 1955, the small-town Arkansas college undergraduate goes berserk. He and his friends hold a vigil which turns into a drunk and, finally, a tragedy.
- On September 30, 1955 in Conway, Arkansas, University of Central Arkansas student Jimmy J. (Richard Thomas) watches the film 'East of Eden' in a movie theater alone. The next day at football practice, Jimmy J. hears that the actor and star of the film, James Dean, has been killed. He runs to the local radio station and confirms that the actor died in an automobile crash in California the day before (around the same time he was watching 'East of Eden' in the opening scene).
Jimmy J. calls his friend Billie Jean Turner (Lisa Blount), a working-class girl who also admires Dean, to commiserate. He then leads his girlfriend Charlotte Smith (Deborah Benson), his roommate Hanley (Tom Hulce), and another college couple, Frank (Dennis Quaid) and his girlfriend Pat (Mary Kai Clark), on an off-campus adventure. They order a takeout barbecue meal and Jimmy J. steals a few bottles of liquor from a store. They evade the police and have a party near the Arkansas River, where Jimmy J. grows upset that his friends do not understand the depth of his grief. When Frank asks how Jimmy J. can care so much about someone he has never met, Jimmy J. explains that he has seen 'East of Eden' four times, and Billie Jean claims to have seen it 22 times; they were anticipating the releases of James Dean's other two films, 'Rebel Without a Cause' later in October and 'Giant' the following year, Jimmy J. and Billie Jean met seeing 'East of Eden' a few months earlier, and though Charlotte claims Billie Jean presents no competition, she has asked Jimmy J. not to see her.
Later that afternoon, Jimmy J. sculpts an Academy Award statuette out of mud, strips to his underwear, smears himself with mud, and conducts a ceremony to summon Dean's spirit. A dog barks in the distance and Jimmy J. perceives the bark as a sign. The police arrive, but the group escapes and heads back to town. When Frank and Pat are dropped off, they tell Jimmy J. that he is disturbed. When Jimmy J. asks Charlotte if he can continue the seance at her house since her parents are not home, she invites him and Hanley to visit once Jimmy J. is cleaned up.
Returning to the dormitory, Jimmy J. is surprised to see his mother (Collin Wilcox), his Aunt Ethel, and his little brother, Dickie, who have come to take him to a show in Little Rock. Jimmy J's mother is disappointed by his dirty appearance and worries that he will end up a loser and deadbeat like his father. In the dormitory, as others prepare for a fraternity dance that evening, Jimmy J. calls Billie Jean and invites her to Charlotte's for the seance.
Coach Haynes (Ben Fuhrman) awaits Jimmy J. in his room and disciplines him for leaving football practice that morning. A classmate named Eugene (Dennis Christopher) asks Jimmy J. and Hanley if he may accompany them to Charlotte's house for the seance and the three escape out a side door as the state police, called by Frank and Pat, arrive. The three young men escape from the building just as a college dance is starting to be held. They drive to Billie Jean's house and once inside, Jimmy J. finds Billie Jean in her room dressed like the character Vampira, wearing heavy makeup and a black cape. She attempts to seduce Jimmy J., and when he rebuffs her, she tells him that James Dean would not have pulled away.
Charlotte is not pleased when the three young men arrive at her parents house with Billie Jean. Despite Charlotte's protests, Billie Jean darkens the room, lights candles, and clears the furniture. When Charlotte and Jimmy J. are alone, she says she suspects that something is going on between him and Billie Jean. Jimmy J. admits he is untrustworthy, like his father, but he has not had sex with Billie Jean. Later, the group uses a Ouija game board to contact Dean, but only Jimmy J. and Billie Jean feel his presence. Charlotte goes to another room and Billie Jean kisses Jimmy J. passionately. Hanley suggests he join in, and Jimmy J. is outraged that his friend would show such a lack of respect for the moment. Jimmy J. realizes that the college dance is over and Frank and Pat are likely parked by the cemetery. He suggests they take revenge on the couple by going to the graveyard and scaring them, so they paint their faces with ghoulish makeup.
At the cemetery, the group wreaks havoc, frightening Frank and Pat, as well as another couple. When the police arrive, Billie Jean drops a candelabrum and her cape catches on fire, leaving her badly burned. Jimmy J. is arrested.
The film then jumps forward 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. Although she claims her mother forced her to write Jimmy J. a letter and to break up with him, he is unconvinced and kisses her before climbing off the float. 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. Eugene is also present as part of the college marching band, and he also acknowledges Jimmy J. by waving to him.
Later, Jimmy J. visits Billie Jean, who has come home from the hospital and has not spoken since the accident. She is covered in bandages except for the right side of her face. When Jimmy J. speaks to her, she does not reply and he says it reminds him of the last scene in East of Eden. Jimmy J. confesses that he went to Memphis, Tennessee, the previous night and watched James Dean in the film 'Rebel Without a Cause' four times so that he could tell Billie Jean about it. He recounts how the movie parallels his own life and explains that he is responsible for Billie Jean's injuries the same way James Dean's character is responsible for Plato's death in the film. Jimmy J. apologizes and says he needs her forgiveness because he is leaving for California to visit the spot where James Dean died. When Billie Jean does not answer, he pleads with her, warning her that her mother plans to send Billie Jean to a clinic for shock treatment. Billie Jean blurts out, "Stop it!" and tells him that she does not want to hear any more. She asks him to break all the mirrors in the room because her face is scarred for life. Her mother, Melba Lou Turner (Susan Tyrrell), comes upstairs responding to the noise and becomes upset when Billie Jean reveals that Jimmy J. told her about the shock treatment. Uneasy, Jimmy J. claims his words conjured a scene in a movie; "when life is feels like a movie, it is more real than at any other time". When he tells Billie Jean that she once agreed with him, both she and her mother tell the young man that life is not a movie and he leaves.
At the football game, Jimmy J. watches Charlotte's coronation as football queen from behind a fence. In the final scene, Jimmy J. rides away from campus on his motorcycle through town and past the movie theater marquee that reads: Marilyn Monroe in 'The Seven-Year Itch.'