Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Giant (1956 film)

Based on the novel by Edna Farber, Giant is the story of a ranching family in Texas who endure changing times to protect their land while dealing with an ambitious ranch hand who strikes it rich with oil. Directed by George Stevens and screenplay by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat, the film is a sprawling tale of the life of a family who endure many different things including social, racial, and personal issues that would shape their fortune. Starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Elsa Cardenas, and Earl Holliman. Giant is a grand yet evocative film from George Stevens.

The film follows the life a family of ranchers in Texas from the early 1920s to the mid-1950s where a rancher marries a woman from Maryland and brings her home where she copes with her new life and her own ideals while they both deal with an ambitious ranch hand who inherits land that is filled with oil. It’s a film that is about not just ambition but also the definition of success and how a rancher is trying to maintain his own ideas and morals for many years as he also contend with changing times and fortunes. The film’s screenplay by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat is definitely sprawling in terms of the way the times are set as it begins around the early 20th Century in Maryland where Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) goes to the state to buy a new horse. He ends up returning to Texas with a new wife in Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) who falls for Bick in their initial meeting as she adjust to her new environment as well as try to fit in with the new world.

The script does have a simple three-act structure as the first act is about Leslie in her new environment where she has to contend with Bick’s sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), the way things are in Texas as well as the role of women, and the racial divide between the rich, white ranchers and the poor Mexican-Americans who live near by in near-poverty. The second act is about the growth of Bick and Leslie’s family but also what Bick’s former ranch hand in Jett Rink (James Dean) would discover from land he inherits from Luz as he would become rich and later overwhelm the Benedicts with his oil empire. It’s around the same time that Bick’s morals and his ideas of what he wants would come to ahead in changes as his son Jordan II (Dennis Hopper) doesn’t want to take over the family business. The third act is about the decisions that Bick and Leslie’s children would take such as daughters Judy (Fran Bennett) and the youngest in Luz II (Carroll Baker) would take but also tragedy relating to the family and the decision Jordan II would make in marrying a Mexican-American in Juana (Elsa Cardenas).

George Stevens’ direction is definitely vast in not just the setting of the locations in Marfa, Texas but also for the length of the story that spans nearly four decades. With the scenes in Maryland shot in Virginia, the house interiors and the airport/parade scenes near Burbank, California, the film explores a world that starts off as simple with old ideas and old morals as they work no matter how imperfect they are. Stevens’ usage of wide shots are gorgeous in capturing vast depth of field that is the Benedict land with its horde of cattle which represents this old kind of empire that was the source of income for Texas. There is an intimacy in some of the close-ups and medium shots but also in how Leslie would encounter the new world she’s in as it’s very different the quaint and more colorful world of Maryland. There are moments that would foreshadow certain things including moments of tragedy and sadness but also little things that Leslie does that would shape the fortunes of the less fortunate as it showcases her grace. It is in sharp contrast to the old order that Bick stands for where he doesn’t want Leslie to be involved in conversations he’s having with other men including Uncle Bawley (Chill Wills) who adores Leslie.

The moments of foreshadowing would be prevalent towards its second act once Bick and Leslie become parents as they cope with the fact that Bick’s ideas and plans for his children don’t go as planned. Adding to the trouble is Jett and his emerging oil empire where it play into this sense of change that Bick has trouble adjusting to but also refusing to have Jett drill oil in his land. Stevens’ direction would play into these changes as the scenes of the oil wells and emergence of modern transport play into the falling fortunes of Bick and his reluctance to be part of the oil industry just to survive. Yet, it would all climax in an event that would celebrate Jett’s success as Stevens gives it a grand presentation that is quite large but there’s something about it that is off. Especially as it relates to Jett and what he’s achieved but there’s a sadness to it. Notably as it would also involve something that Bick is forced to see and come to terms with in who he is and be forced to accept. Overall, Stevens creates a riveting and enthralling film about the life of a rancher, his wife, and a ranch hand through many years in Texas.

Cinematographer William C. Mellor does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography in capturing the yellow and sunny desert look of the locations around the Benedict ranch and some of the locations in Texas well as some unique lighting in the interior scenes including the climatic scenes at the Jett hotel. Editors Phil Anderson, Fred Bohanan, and William Hornbeck do excellent work with the editing as its usage of transitional dissolves and fade-outs help play into structure of the film as well as rhythmic cuts to help intensify some of the dramatic moments. Production designer Boris Levin and set decorator Ralph S. Hurst do amazing work with the design of the Benedict home and its interiors as well as the design of the shantytowns that Benedict‘s Mexican workers live in and the hotel that Jett would open including its lavish dining hall. Costume designers Moss Mabry and Marjorie Best do fantastic work with the costumes with the design of the clothes the men wear as well as the dresses with Mabry designing the many clothes that Leslie would wear.

Makeup supervisor Gordon Bau does some fine work with some of the aging makeup in some of the characters though the way Jett looks when he‘s older is just bad as is some of the look of the Mexicans where it looks ridiculously bad. Special visual effects by Jack Cosgrove does some fine work with the minimal visual effects which are just some rear projection shots for a few scenes in the film. The sound work of Earl Crain Sr. is superb for the way some of the parties are held including some of the quieter moments at the Benedict home and the scenes during the work at the ranch and in the oil wells. The film’s music by Dimitri Timokin is wonderful for its soaring orchestral score that play into the drama with some elements of country-western music to play into the world of Texas that also include some traditional songs.

The casting by Hoyt Bowers is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Mickey Simpson as a racist diner owner, Noreen Nash as a film star, Paul Fix and Judith Evelyn as Leslie’s parents, Carolyn Craig as Leslie’s sister Lacy, Rod Taylor as Leslie’s then-beau Sir David Karfey, Maurice Jara as Dr. Guerra, Charles Watts as family friend Judge Whiteside, Earl Holliman as Judy’s husband Bob who wants a life of his own like his wife, and Sal Mineo as Angel Obregon II as a ranch hand son who is a childhood friend of the Benedict children as well as someone that Leslie is fond of as she helped him get better when he was a baby. Elsa Cardenas is wonderful as Jordy’s wife Juana who is a Mexican-American that Jordy loves as Bick would eventually become fond of late in the film. Jane Withers and Robert Nichols are terrific as Bick’s neighbors in Vashti and Pinky, respectively, as family friends who help the Benedicts cope with changes as well as try to maintain some old ideas.

Chill Wills is fantastic as Uncle Bawley as Bick’s uncle who is the family advisor as well as someone that is willing to hear what Leslie thinks as well as display a tenderness that isn’t seen very often. Fran Bennett is superb as Bick and Leslie’s eldest daughter Judy as a woman who is determined to find her own life as well as go for something that is more down-home rather than what Leslie wants from her. Mercedes McCambridge is brilliant as Bick’s sister Luz as a headstrong woman who finds herself butting heads with Leslie on who should run the house while being the business manager who is fond of Jett. Carroll Baker is excellent as Luz II as the youngest daughter of Bick and Leslie who is a typical young woman that would have a crush on Jett as she becomes confused in her loyalty towards her family. Dennis Hopper is amazing as Jordan “Jordy” Benedict II as Bick and Leslie’s son who is trying to find his own path as a doctor as well as marry a Mexican-American where he faces some prejudice as he tries to stand up for himself and defend his wife’s honor against Jett.

In his final performance, James Dean is incredible as Jett Rink as a ranch hand who would inherit land from Luz that would prove to be prosperous with his discovery of oil where Dean explores someone that was to make something of himself but there’s an emptiness that is quite sad as it show the fallacy of success. Rock Hudson is great as Jordan “Bick” Benedict II as a rancher that meets and falls for a woman from Maryland as he brings her home to Texas where he tries to show her the world that he lives in as he copes with changes of ideals and other things as well as his own immorality that he’s been carrying for so many years. Finally, there’s Elizabeth Taylor in a phenomenal performance as Leslie Benedict as Bick’s new wife who is trying to adjust to her new surroundings while maintaining her own sense of being in a world where women don’t have much say in things as it is Taylor that has this sense of command and grace into her performance while having great rapport with both Hudson and Dean.

Giant is a sensational film from George Stevens. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a soaring music score, and a captivating story of changing times, ambition, and ideals. It’s a film that definitely lives up to its definition of the epic while also containing a few flaws. In the end, Giant is an incredible film from George Stevens.

George Stevens Films: (The Cohens and the Kellys in Trouble) - (Kentucky Kernals) - (Bachelor Bait) - (Laddie) - (The Nitwits) - (Alice Adams) - (Annie Oakley) - Swing Time - (Quality Street) - (A Damsel in Distress (1937 film)) - (Vivacious Lady) - (Gunga Din) - (Vigil in the Night) - (Penny Serenade) - (Woman of the Year) - (The Talk of the Town (1942 film)) - (The More the Merrier) - (That Justice Be Done) - (On Our Merry Way) - (I Remember Mama) - A Place in the Sun - (Something to Live For) - Shane - (The Diary of Anne Frank) - (The Greatest Story Ever Told) - (The Only Game in Town)

© thevoid99 2017


joel65913 said...

This is one of the films I've regretted not being able to view in a theatre. It's just made for that. A bitter pill was that I almost had a chance to do just that once when I was visiting friends in LA, it was supposed to play in a big revival theatre there and they had problems with the print and had to delay for a couple of days which turned out to be two days after I'd flown home! Sigh.

Anyway this is a sprawling epic with all those pluses you pointed out. Having read the Edna Ferber novel that was its basis it's a very solid adaptation and fills in the characters as well as it could in the transition from page to screen.

The real standout in support is Mercedes McCambridge as Luz. She informs so much of who her character is in a short time though the true tension between Leslie and she was muted. They truly detested each other in the book though they covered it around Bick. To the point that after Luz's death Leslie refused Bick's request to name their new daughter after her choosing Carola instead but he ignored that and everyone, including eventually Leslie, called her Luz anyway.

I like Dean in the film but of his three big performances this is the lesser. He's terrific in the early scenes, brooding and effortlessly sexual, and his interaction with both Hudson and Taylor exactly right for the relationships but in the later scenes as an aged man he struggles with conveying the thrust of the character. I realize that might be somewhat of a compromise on Stevens part since he had to work with the available footage he had being as Dean was killed in that accident before principle shooting was completed.

But he's really a side character to Bick and Leslie so you need two people who hold your interest for the long haul and who connect with each other and Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson do that with ease. Hudson was cast first and Stevens offered his choice of Taylor or Grace Kelly and like Grace though I do she would have been so very wrong for the part. Leslie needed Liz's grounded earthiness to push through her ability to wrought the changes she finally manages to make in Bick. This came during her most fertile period of stardom and I think it's some of her best work. Same goes for Rock, he felt so too along with Seconds.

thevoid99 said...

I would love to see the film in the big screen no matter how flawed it is. Mercedes McCambridge is awesome in the film as I did kind of what more from her. I think Elizabeth Taylor is perfect for Leslie as I just liked how humble the character is as well as be more open to new things. I hope to watch more films that she starred in as she was just great in this.

I've only seen 2 films starring James Dean as the other is a very small role in Fixed Bayonets! by Samuel Fuller as I do have East of Eden in my DVR hard drive as I hope to do that and Rebel Without a Cause.

joel65913 said...

Rebel is iconic and venerated and it is a very good film with excellent work by Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo but I think the best Dean ever was is in East of Eden.

Now I might be predisposed to the film since it's based on the second half of my all-time favorite book. The Jane Seymour mini-series from the 80's covers the entire book and is so worth seeing, it contains Jane's career best work.

Be that as it may the 50's Dean version is extraordinary and like Rebel has an amazing cast beside him. Julie Harris, Raymond Massey and Jo Van Fleet are the standouts but there isn't a bad performance in the bunch.

You got some great viewing ahead!

thevoid99 said...

@joel65913-Thank you. I look forward to seeing those 2 films.