Saturday, March 11, 2017

Texas-Tall-Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson And James Dean’s “Giant” (1956)-A Film Review

Texas-Tall-Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson And James Dean’s “Giant” (1956)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell 

[Please note that this is the first film review in this space with long time film critic Sam Lowell using the honorific emeritus- in short putting himself out to pasture. He will still provide his reviews but will no longer be the primary, or as in earlier times, the sole film critic here. Good luck with whatever else you decide to do in the future-Sam. Peter Paul Markin]    

Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean in his last major film, and an all-star cast including a young and very proper Dennis Hopper as a doctor son in the days before Easy Rider, produced and directed by George Stevens based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, 1956        

I am on something of a Modern West tear, make that a modern Texas tear, these days since a few of the last film reviews I have penned had dealt with the period of transition from the shoot first and ask questions later values of the Old West to the get rich quick and live fast values of the New West. I have dealt with variations on that theme in the change in ethos without getting chopped up and spit out in the film adaptations of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show and Cormac Mc Carthy’s All The Pretty Horses and now here with the film adaptation of Edna Ferber’s Giant. All I can say is that going through the transition maybe best personified by the character Jett Rink in Giant is was not for the faint –hearted any more than coming West was for those pioneers a few generations before them.                     

There are plenty of themes running through this very long film which was needed to do justice to Ms. Ferber’s novel. (At three and one half hours if I recall correctly when I first watched it as a kid at the Saturday afternoon matinee it was split into two parts with an intermission to stock up on that popcorn which at a certain age was the real treat about going to the matinee. On the DVD it is split into Sides A and B). There is of course the mainstay legacy of old Texas cattle barons represented by the Benedicts who pioneered the migration West represented here by Bick, played by Rock Hudson, joined in marriage by headstrong Leslie, she of the Maryland horsy set smitten by the handsome Bick to head to cattle country, played by Elizabeth Taylor. There are stories running through three generations of this family from the Bick-Leslie marriage to the children who don’t give a damn about the so-called legacies that agitated Bick’s generation to the grandchildren some pretty, some not so pretty. Of course not all Texas legacies were about the gentile folk but also the left- behind, the modern strivers of the coming oil boom and bust represented by Benedict thorn in the side Jett Rink (great name), played by the legendary James Dean in his last film. In the end Bick and his cattle baron boys are lured into the very lucrative oil depletion allowance operations which good old boy Jett pulls together (an interesting visual was all the oil derricks working away while cattle are passing through on their way to forage or the market).           

Other themes include the at times stormy love affair between Bick and Leslie, especially when she enters the rich good old boy networks, the man’s world of Bick and his friends, and speaks for herself without remorse or fear in a bid for social equality. They will last though no question despite the ups and downs and at the end they do. Most importantly there is a serious airing of the tradition separation of the Anglos and Mexicans as in Ferber’s book and the racial animosity if that is the right way to put by the Anglos treating the “wetbacks,” well just like the blacks. There is an interesting turn around by Bick who early on had all the social animosity of old Texas against the Mexicans (remembering the Alamo, etc.) and slowly changes under the combined onslaught Leslie’s more progressive views and their son’s marriage to a pretty Mexican woman. Bick almost became apoplectic when while he and Leslie were dancing around each other she mentioned that Texas after all had been “stolen” from the Mexicans-bright woman. (Bick in one of the final scenes “gets religion” when a redneck cook at a roadside diner makes racial remarks against his grandson and his daughter-in-law and another family who wanted to, well, eat at the diner and he goes Old West mano y mano with the cracker). If you want to see a classic example of the big screen epics of the 1950s this is your stop. That and watching James Dean eating up the camera with his moves and his sullen “not moves”.      

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