GIANT (1956) 

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Rock Hudson
Elizabeth Taylor
James Dean
Carroll Baker
Jane Withers
Chill Wills
Mercedes McCambridge
Dennis Hopper
Sal Mineo
Fran Bennett

George Stevens




About Taylor

About Hudson

About Dean

Time: 201 mins.
Rating: G
Genre: Drama/Romance/Western

Won Academy Award for Best Director. Nominated for Best Actor (Dean & Hudson), Supporting Actress (McCambridge), Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay, Score & Best Picture.

This is one of those classic films I had heard about, but never seen. At 3 1/2 hours it takes real commitment from the audience, however I don't think many are disappointed. I know I wasn't. GIANT is a massive American tale of commitment, unrequited love, racism, rivalry, betrayal and heartbreak that takes place on the wide open, dusty plains of Texas – a world all its' own in the 1920s. It stars three of cinema's most dynamic stars: Elizabeth Taylor, in her bewitching prime; Rock Hudson, in a role that forces him to stretch his acting muscles; and the unforgettable James Dean, who gives an impressive turn in what would ultimately be his third and final film. Though all great actors, their styles are clearly different, which is sometimes jarring, yet often times adds to the strife and tension between their characters. They each create fully realized characters so real you'd swear they're going to walk off the screen. It's a film that needs time to unfold, in order to slowly reveal the layers and motivations of the trio.

The story follows their successes and failures over 25 years of life on the expansive Reata cattle ranch. Taylor plays Leslie Lynnton, an intelligent, strong-willed young lady who meets and quickly marries Bick Benedict, a cattle rancher from Texas. She's initially fascinated by his tales of Texas, his strapping shoulders and half a million acres. For his part, he's never met a woman like her. The first glow of marriage (i.e. sex) wears off fairly quickly once they reach the ranch. The heat, wind and dust are overwhelming to Leslie, not to mention the cool reception she receives from Bick's older sister Luz (McCambridge). However, she's not about to take a back seat to anyone, which causes much tension in the household. Her friendly attitude towards the help, made up of Mexican Americans, doesn't help matters either.

It seems her life on the ranch is going to be a tough one until an accident takes Luz out of the running for good, which sets in motion a bitter rivalry between Bick and his one-time ranch manager Jett Rink (Dean). Jett's parents weren't as "lucky" in the land acquisition game, so he's one of the only white males in the area forced to work for a living. He immediately falls under Leslie's spell, though it's clear she only views him as a friend. Despite their ideological differences, Leslie is hopelessly in love with Bick. She goes out of her way to try to better the lives of the ranch's Mexican workers, a vocation Bick allows, but doesn't understand. The house is soon filled with children, fulfilling Bick's dream of a family dynasty, a son to carry on the running of Reata. However, that doesn't stop Leslie's charity work, nor impede Jett's obsession with her.

Jett believes that if only he were rich, Leslie would be his, an idea that sends him careening down the road to self-destruction. He's so blinded by jealousy and desire, he fails to see Leslie for who she really is – an intelligent, decent, caring woman who loves her husband despite his flaws. When Jett finally strikes it rich, his anger and rivalry towards Bick destroys any chance he has of ever being happy with his success. Bick's obsession with Reata, his need for his son to be the man he wants him to be, drives a wedge between him and Leslie that almost destroys their marriage. However, it becomes clear to both of them that for better or worse, bad traits or good, they need each other too much to give up on their life together. The final hour of the film showcases the next generation trying to find their way out from under the burden of their parents' personalities and desires. It's not as vibrant or interesting since Taylor, Dean and Hudson end up taking a back seat.

"Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he's too rich to kill."

Hopper and Mineo try to be charismatic and involving, but they are clearly supporting characters whose plot lines are only there to create conflict in the older generation. Being an epic, Stevens wanted to show the evolution of these people, how their ideals and principals could change over time, how even bigots can come to change their attitudes. Bick's final transformation, where he comes to accept his son's Mexican wife and son as human beings, is entertaining, but just takes too long. Besides, we already know that Bick is an inherently good guy. The years it takes for him to come to the realization that all human beings are equal, is most likely an accurate representation, however, we don't need to feel like we've lived those years with him. The moral decay of Dean's character just wasn't very interesting either. He does a good job of portraying a bitter drunk, but that's not good enough.

If you're willing to give it the time, GIANT is an expansive, visually stunning epic that imparts its' message in an entertaining way. Taylor is breathtaking, brimming with class and fire, refusing to be merely the pretty, quiet wife. Hudson probably gives his best performance here, playing a man with many flaws, but good at heart. He walks a fine line between decent and contemptible and he does it well. If the audience hates him, the whole movie falls apart. Despite star billing, Dean is not in the film as much as fans might think. His role is key to many of the story's conflicts, but he is a supporting character. However, your eyes are drawn to him every moment he's onscreen. He gives such a casual, yet focused performance. After watching this film, there's no question why he's one of cinema's greats despite only having made three films. Sure, his early death contributes to the myth, but, in his case, the talent is there to back it up.

George Stevens has directed several other film classics, like GUNGA DIN, A PLACE IN THE SUN and SHANE, but GIANT is his masterwork. From the story to the cinematography, to the acting and music, it's a pleasure to behold. It takes you to a whole different time and place. Texas becomes the ever-present fourth main character, silent, but unyielding, a fickle, hard place where you have to fight for your dreams. He truly manages to convey the vastness, isolation, dryness and heat of this huge state. The film made me constantly thirsty. I can't understand why people would live in a place like that, but hey, I live in earthquake country, so to each his own. GIANT is an old-fashioned film in the best sense of the word with great performances, a distinctive visual style and an involving story with characters and ideas that actually have something to say. Something one has to seek to find these days.

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