I'm officially taking James Dean down from his pedastal now. There's a point where actor worship goes too far, and movie buffs everywhere have long passed it in Dean's case. Dean made three movies in his lifetime - a good movie (East of Eden) an excellent movie (Rebel Without a Cause) and a Saturday Matinee throwaway (Giant). Then he slammed his car into something that was obviously very, very hard. Dean was a great actor, and he surely would have gone on to have a productive career had he lived longer. But none of these things are enough to justify the cult that has built up around his movies. After all, he spent his three movies basically playing one character: The anti-social or angst-ridden outcast. Even when he made Giant and started to expand the base of his general screen persona a little, he never does anything throughout the first half of Giant to make you forget you're staring at James Dean.
In Giant, Dean's billing is overhyped. He is credited with a lead role, but his part as Jett Rink (you don't have to say it, I know the name sucks) is merely a supporting player to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson's Benedict family. Rink is there to provide an outside conflict for the Benedicts, an oil foil to the honorable cattle barons. Playing well as he did in his other two movies, Dean first appears to be a meaningless little pest in Giant. He's a southern gentleman and a hard worker on the outside. About halfway through the movie, he discovers oil and founds the Jetexas oil company, and from that point on it's pop goes the weasel. He never comes off as a true villain, but he goes on to pester the Benedict family until a point when he opens his hotel and airport where he makes some derogatory remarks in a drunken stupor, after which he embarrasses himself by passing out right at the moment he's supposed to deliver a big speech in front of every serious businessman in Texas. While Dean just isn't that great in the first half of Giant, he plays the transformation with an ease that would be envied by most other actors.
Rock Hudson plays Benedict family patriarch Jordan. We first meet Jordan on a train to some other state, where he meets the beautiful Leslie. The two of them are soon married, and we watch the development of their family through several generations. Jordan Benedict is the polar opposite of Jett Rink. Jordan is an old-fashioned, down-home southern gentleman whose moral philosophies are, truth be known, primitive in a few ways. When Leslie tries to join a political conversation between him and his friends one evening, Jordan attempts to chase her off using the rationale that politics are man country. Late in the movie, he fights a bigoted cafe owner who refuses to serve a Mexican family. When he confront Jett about Jett's despicable behavior and the two go into a storage room to fight, Jordan lowers his fist and tells Jett he's not even worth that much. This is despite that fact that Jett is a lurching drunk at the time and would have been an easy victory in a fight.
Hudson and Dean are even opposite in their acting techniques. Hudson speaks his lines like he had a stage background. Dean was a strict Method student who, along with Marlon Brando, helped make Method acting the dominant form today. The different acting styles will not affect how you watch Giant, but they may be responsible for wrecking a few movies in that era.
Besides performances, there's really not a whole lot of praise to give Giant. It's Gone with the Wind set in Texas, and really nothing more than a standard-issue epic. It's also in need of more editing. At three hours and 20 minutes, some of the scenes are bound to be dragged out longer than need be. But Giant pushes the envelope in a lot of ways. When Leslie first marries Jordan and moves to Texas with him, the first 40 minutes or so are spent in Leslie's amazed imagination as she soaks up Texas and its culture. The climax of the movie in Jett's hotel takes much longer than it needs to. In fact, director George Stevens appears to have taken the Saturday Night Live approach to filmmaking with Giant, and I don't mean the show's good years. In many scenes, there's a setup and a nadir that's designed to leave you with maximum impact and memorability. But as with many SNL sketches, the scene drags on long after the nadir. The result is that by the time the scene is over, you've lost track of what it's really supposed to be about, and the impact is lessened.
The staple plotline is that Giant covers three generations of life in a family of cattle ranchers who do things in big, Texas style. Unfortanately, the Texas style serves merely as a compliment to the main plot, and not the other way around. This severely weakens what could have been an interesting movie. I've made no secret of my hatred for cliches. Giant is full of them. There's the honest good-guy businessman who wants his son to take over the business, the adoring wife, the guy who tells the wife how beautiful she is at every opportunity, the sone who doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps, the guy with newfound riches thinking he's invincible, and many others. Giant chugs along at a fairly steady pace as it introduces the millionth variations of characters you know and situations you can see coming a mile away. The direction is very well-done, but what's good direction when the directed scenes consistently wear out their welcome?
George Stevens should be commended for giving the movie an obvious stance against racism, and for using Mexicans as the targets of racism instead of blacks. But the subject is never given a proper, frontal confrontation, even at the end scene in the restaurant. The restaurant scene was more about business ownership rights than racism. Therefore, anyone trying to argue for Giant's stance against racism has a very toothless final product to present at the debate. This is where Gone with the Wind holds an advantage over Giant; Gone with the Wind wasn't afraid to be politically incorrect.
Giant is a great movie for a lazy Saturday afternoon when you want to stay in if it's raining. It doesn't deserve all of its hype or its status as a classic. The weak script and cliches ruin it. It can be enjoyable if you're really into family epics, though.
GIANT stars Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor as Jordan and Leslie Benedict in an epic story about one family's journey to power and respectability. Jordan Benedict is a Texan rancher who travels east searching for horses to ride and cattle to breed. He makes a stop at the Lynnton estate. While there he meets Leslie Lynnton. At first he is amused by her charm and she is infatuated by his good looks and wealth. Soon his amusement grows into love and he asks Leslie to marry him. After a brief honeymoon, … more
They call itGiantbecause everything in this picture is big, from the generous running time (more than 200 minutes) to the sprawling ranch location (a horizon-to-horizon plain with a lonely, modest mansion dropped in the middle) to the high-powered stars. Stocky Rock Hudson stars as the confident, stubborn young ranch baron Bick Benedict, who woos and wins the hand of Southern belle Elizabeth Taylor, a seemingly demure young beauty who proves to be Hudson's match after she settles into the family homestead. For many the film is chiefly remembered for James Dean's final performance, as poor former ranch hand Jett Rink, who strikes oil and transforms himself into a flamboyant millionaire playboy. Director George Stevens won his second Oscar for this ambitious, grandly realized (if sometimes slow moving) epic of the changing socioeconomic (and physical) landscape of modern Texas, based on Edna Ferber's bestselling novel. The talented supporting cast includes Mercedes McCambridge as Bick's frustrated sister, put out by the new "woman of the house"; Chill Wills as the Benedicts' garrulous rancher neighbor; Carroll Baker and Dennis Hopper as the Benedicts' rebellious children; and Earl Holliman and Sal Mineo as dedicated ranch hands.--Sean Axmaker