Sunday, May 19, 2024

2024 Blind Spot Series: East of Eden

Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, East of Eden is the story of a young man in the early 1900s during World War I who vies for the affection of his father who tends to favor his brother where he goes on a journey for his own identity. Directed by Elia Kazan and screenplay by Paul Osborn, the film is a take of the Cain and Abel story in which two brothers spar for the devotion of their deeply religious father as one of them copes with his own issues while learning about his estranged mother. Starring James Dean, Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, Lois Smith, and Jo Van Fleet. East of Eden is a majestic and intoxicating film from Elia Kazan.

Set in 1917 North California in the town of Salinas and the nearby town of Monterey, the film revolves around a young man trying to win the love of his father while competing with his twin brother whom their father favors. It is a film that is really an interpretation of the Cain and Abel story as it plays into two brothers vying for their father’s affection with one of them being this pacifist, strait-laced figure with a girlfriend and is a lot like his father. The other is an angst-ridden young man who feels like he could never please his father no matter how much work he can do and such. Paul Osborn’s screenplay is largely straightforward in how it plays into the journey that Cal Trask (James Dean) endures as he feels like he doesn’t do enough to please his father where he would often venture out Salina towards the neighboring Monterey where he follows a woman named Cathy Ames (Joy Van Fleet) whom he realizes is his mother that had abandoned his father just after he and his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) were born.

Their father Adam (Raymond Massey) is a man that is devoted to God in his beliefs, but he is also someone who has ideas with his crops as he is a farmer and a draft board chairman. He had an idea in keeping vegetables fresh as he has a lettuce crop as Cal helps along with Aron’s girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) who is often concerned for Cal and his moody behavior. Yet, a weather storm crushes Adam’s dreams though Cal has an idea to go into the bean-growing business with one of his father’s partners knowing that stock will rise in case the U.S. decides to go to war as a way for Cal to get his father’s money back. Even as he turns to Cathy for help where he learns about why she left him as it makes Cal more determined to help his father where even Abra learns about what he is doing as she starts to fall for him. Yet, the script would reveal that Aron would find a way to upstage Cal in some way as it adds this sense of entitlement to someone who does everything his father does but is unable to cope with reality.

Elia Kazan’s direction is truly wondrous in his approach to imagery and the compositions that he creates that almost look and feel like a painting in some shots. Shot on location in coastal areas of Northern California in Salinas, Salinas Valley, and Mendocino County as they are important characters in the film such as shots of Cal riding on top of a train that would go from Salinas to Monterey. Kazan’s usage of the Cinemascope format allows him to go to great lengths to create shots such as a train riding away towards its destination as it plays into Adam Trask’s promise of a great future. While Kazan does use a lot of wide and medium shots to play into the locations including a fair where the bond between Cal and Abra becomes closer. There is also an intimacy in some of the medium shots but also in the close-ups along with a few slanted angles that play into Trask’s dominance towards his son with Aron often sitting either beside his father or in the middle of a table but closer to his father. Kazan also plays into the many differences between Cal and Aron as the latter is often seen in a clean-cut look with the former sometimes looking disheveled.

Kazan also plays into the events of World War I as Cal knew that there’s money to be made as he hopes he can use the money he makes to regain the money his father had lost. While Cal is aware about the horrors of war as there is this sense of optimism relating to the U.S. entering World War I. That optimism is destroyed when some of the young local men are killed with Trask’s longtime family friend Gustav Albrecht (Harold Gordon) is harassed because he’s German. The incidents relating to Albrecht make things for Trask uneasy with Aron also unable to cope with the realities of war as his pacifism becomes unwanted. The film’s third act relates to not just Cal’s desire to win over his father’s approval as he had kept the knowledge of his mother secret from both his father and Aron. It also plays into a young man who is often overshadowed by his brother whose selfishness is unveiled leading to a breakdown and some harsh truths for a family who have kept too many secrets from themselves. Overall, Kazan crafts a riveting yet intense film about two brothers vying for the affection of their father.

Cinematographer Ted D. McCord does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it is filled with gorgeous colors for many of the film’s daytime exteriors with some stylish lighting for some interior scenes in the day and night including some soft-looking shots as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Owen Marks does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some stylish transitional dissolves to help play into the drama . Art directors James Basevi and Malcolm C. Bert, along with set decorators George James Hopkins and William Wallace, do brilliant work with the look of the Trask family ranch as well as the home where Abra lives in as well as other locations within the town.

Costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone does fantastic work with the costumes from the refined look of Trask and Aron to a more rugged look that Cal has as well as the stylish clothing that Cathy wears. The sound work of Stanley Jones is terrific for its approach to sound in the way things sound from afar as well as some of the sparse moments in the film. The film’s music by Leonard Rosenman is amazing for its soaring orchestral score that plays into some of the film’s melodrama along with some moments of dramatic suspense as it is a highlight of the film.

The casting by Harvey Clermont is wonderful as it features some notable small roles and appearances from Lois Smith as a young waitress working for Cathy at her brothel, Timothy Carey as Cathy’s bouncer Joe, Lonny Chapman as a mechanic who showed Trask how a car works, Richard Garrick as Dr. Edwards who appears late in the film, and Barbara Baxley as a nurse late in the film who annoys both Cal and Abra. Harold Gordon is terrific as Trask’s friend Gustav Albrecht as a German salesman whom the Trask family is fond of as they try to protect him from the locals. Albert Dekker is superb as Will Hamilton as a businessman who teams with Trask in his refrigerating idea only for things to fall but still wants to help Trask out by teaming with Cal in growing beans as it would be profitable. Burl Ives is fantastic as the local sheriff Sam who knows about Cathy being in Monterey as he is also a close friend of Trask where he does what he can to help Cal with news about his mother.

Jo Van Fleet is excellent as Cathy Ames/Kate Trask as a brothel madam who wears gloves to cover her hands that are described as white as ivory as she is also the estranged mother of both Cal and Aron as she discovers the former searching for her where she agrees to help his father as well as make money into Cal’s bean business. Richard Davalos is brilliant as Aron Trask as Cal’s twin brother who is a lot like their father in terms of being strait-laced and not getting into trouble yet is also unable to cope with reality where he would neglect Abra and later use her to win his father’s approval and humiliate Cal. Raymond Massey is amazing as Adam Trask as a farmer/draft board chairman who is trying to be this idea of purity as well as being someone who prefer to see success through small things instead of bigger things despite some ideas that would prove to prosperous despite the realities he had to face.

Julie Harris is incredible as Abra Bacon as Aron’s girlfriend who is this beautiful soul that is always good to everyone while shares her own issues with her father with Cal which adds to their growing bond as her relationship with Aron starts to falter as she would fall for Cal and be sympathetic towards him. Finally, there’s James Dean in a tremendous performance as Cal Trask as a young man who is eager to win the approval of his father while is often tormented by his own flaws as well as having to compete with his brother. Even as he is always full of energy and is willing to work hard yet is often conflicted in wanting to win his father’s love but also hates him for favoring Aron whom he feels is always undermining him as it showcases Dean as this acting powerhouse that is filled with angst and determination to be loved and understood.

East of Eden is a spectacular film by Elia Kazan that features great performances from James Dean, Julie Harris, and Raymond Massey. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, its exploration of sibling rivalry, and an evocative music score by Leonard Rosenman. It is a film that is not just this intense melodrama but also a film that displays a young man that is yearning to be accepted for who he is from those who are close to him. In the end, East of Eden is a phenomenal film from Elia Kazan.

Elia Kazan Films: (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) – (The Sea of Grass) – (Boomerang!) – (Gentleman’s Agreement) – (Pinky) – (Panic in the Streets) – A Streetcar Named Desire - (Viva Zapata!) – (Man on a Tightrope) – On the Waterfront - (Baby Doll) – (A Face in the Crowd) – (Wild River) – Splendor in the Grass - (America America) – (The Arrangement) – (The Visitors (1972 film)) – (The Last Tycoon)

© thevoid99 2024


Brittani Burnham said...

I've always meant to watch this because I still don't get the allure of James Dean from what I saw in Rebel. Maybe he's better in this one.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-He is much better in this film than in Rebel Without a Cause. I'd also recommend Giant as he's excellent in that despite the heavy makeup he puts on later in the film.