Tuesday, June 19, 2007

GIANT (1956)

STARRING: ROCK HUDSON, ELIZABETH TAYLOR, and JAMES DEAN (oh yes, it is starring James Dean...hummina hummina!)
(appears at number 13 on my top 100 films of all-time)
Recently, I finished reading the Edna Ferber novel that this movie was based upon (rather loosely based, as it turns out) and since this is one of the few instances where the movie surpasses the book, I felt the urge to review the of my all-time favorites.

Giant is a 'giant' a movie, no doubt about it. It's a long one, clocking in at just under four hours, and tells the epic tale of one family as it crosses two generations and experiences significant and monumental changes in its dynamic. It's a monster of a movie for more reasons than run time though. Sets are virtually non-existent and the majority of the film is shot in wide (we're talkin' wiiiiide) cinemascope to encompass the enourmity of its main star-Texas. While we experience the romance, trials, and perseverence of the Benedict family, we also are greeted with gigantic vistas of the rolling Texas prairies, thousands of heads of cattle, and extravagant clouds of dust.
The story is as expansive as Texas itself. It follows the rocky but totally believeable love affair between Eastern-bred Leslie (played lovingly by Liz Taylor in one of her best performances) and Jordan "Bic" Benedict-a tall, dark and handsome rancher from the Lone-Star State. Rock Hudson was born to play this roll and does so w/ perfection, clenching that 'rock' hard jaw when his stubborn sense of pride calls for it and languidly strolling through his vast acreage like a man who truly feels that it is part of his soul. After a trip East to purchase a prize-winning stallion, Jordan Benedict meets Leslie Lynnton who captures his fancy with her sharp wit and beautiful face. A whirlwind weekend marries them far too quickly and Leslie is not prepared for the responsiblities facing her as Bic's wife and the lady of "Benedict"-literally half a million acres of ranchland and hundreds of thousands of beef cattle. During her first few days, she meets the 'cast of characters' associated with this little drama, including surly ranch-hand Jett Rink whose sheer animosity for Jordan is only bested by his blind desire for riches. Over the years, the Benedicts become a family unit-adding three youngns to the mix-and despite their differences and troubles, the couple remains steadfastly inlove. But this far more than a love tells the important story of racial prejudice, relates the futility of materialism, and gives an interesting account of the struggle ranchers waged against the biggest enemy they ever faced-oil. The second half of the story focuses on the second generation and the choices they make as well as the continuing lives of our three main characters.
George Stevens did a brilliant job with the direction. The characters (all of them, including the supporting players) are extremely well rounded and given plenty of screen time. We feel that by the end of the film, we have experienced a true story and developed a relationship with these people. The broad landscapes do not take away from the fact that this is still a human drama and the story is very personable, despite the huge stage. The performances are all wonderful but, of course, James Dean (as Jett Rink) will most likey leave the largest impact. It was, after all, his final film and he proved beyond a doubt with this one (aging as he does 25 years during the telling) that he was an incredible actor. It's a meaty role w/ lots of oppurtunities for scene-stealing and scenery-chewing. I also love the wonderful handling of the elements and the stark contrast between the lovely green hills of virginia and the broad expanse of the Texas landscape. The sock-you-in-the face blasts of heat, the blowing tumbleweeds, that gigantic monstrosity of a house stuck flat in the middle of nowhwere and it's wonderful transformation over the years under the tender care of its Eastern mistress are all wonderful things to see. Carol Baker as young Luz, an almost unrecognizable Dennis Hopper as Jordy, Sal Mineo as the beautiful ill-fated Angel Obregon, and great character-actors like Jane Withers and Chill Wills round out an already righteous cast.
I can't help but feel a special affinity for the movie also because the relationship between the two leads reminds me so much of my own romance. I see pieces of my husband and I in those two characters and the way the film handles the evolution of their marriage over that 'breathless quarter of a century' is dear to my heart.
So I guess it's too late to condense this rambling review by saying: I love this movie. It's a perfect example of what an epic film should be.
*note* The dvd runs over four hours and has lots of extra footage. I haven't seen it so this review is based only on the cinematic version (though I'm sure even w/ the extra time it suffers very little)
My Rating: 10/10