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|Index||179 reviews in total|
OK, there are a million '10' reviews for this movie. After five or six
pages of reviews, I finally found a '3', so I won't give it less than
that to not be thought of as a killjoy.
Steinbeck.... Brilliant! Elia Kazan.... Brilliant! Julie Harris...Brilliant! Raymond Massey...Brilliant! Jo Van Fleet... Very underrated. I even liked Albert Dekker!
But James Dean...... I really don't get it. To me, he was 'incredibly' overrated.
A 'method' actor, Dean seems to have had different 'methods' than Brando, Karl Malden, Dustin Hoffman, and many others. Whenever he's on the screen, I feel like he's shouting, 'Look, Ma... I'm 'Acting'!' This guy was so over the top in everything he did!
I know all the old guys at the studios at the time were trying to be 'hip' and 'with it', showing they knew what 'teen angst' was all about. They were waaaay off the mark.
You want to see 'real' teen angst from that period?.... watch Sal Mineo in anything he did. In 'Rebel Without A Cause', all Sal had to do was play about 8 angst-levels down from Dean, and he was a 'real kid'.
I watched about 15 minutes of 'East of Eden' with a group of twenty-somethings, and their reaction to the movie was, Who's this cornball 'Dean'???
Dean's acting was dated in '1955'.... in 2011, he's a cartoon. He would have been pretty good in silent movies.
The only other Kazan movie I can't watch is his 'other' movie of the same genre, 'Splendor in The Grass', 'another' film that everyone else thinks is brilliant, but to me is off the graph.
Everything else Kazan did, I can't get enough of!
Even though I've never read the book, I find this adaptation miserable.
Let me make a disclaimer here. I've started this movie several times,
but never have been able to get to the end although it was obvious
where it was going to end up. It disgusts me at almost every level.
I've also never understood the attraction of James Dean. He only seems to play this character - the scion of an overly wealthy family who, seeing poverty all around him - finds no reaction except whining and bleating about his lofty position in society. Well, more to the point, he whines constantly about how his mommy or daddy or both don't love him enough.
In this loser flick, there is a scene where Dean finds his soul mate - or so I suppose it'll turn out. She is giggling about having thrown away a $3,000 ring her dad, a widower, gave to his new bride. Then she says she forgave him for remarrying. Dean and she find this episode hilarious. Note that this is set during WWI where that $3,000 is enough to support three farm worker families for a year. Such is the movie that it only looks at life from these ignorant bitchy teens' point of view that this violent wasting is overlooked or used as a plot device to weld these characters to each other.
Throughout the entire movie, Dean speaks in a weasely nasal whine and slinks around half folded up which I suppose is spoiled 50's American body language for being beaten down by immense wealth. The movie is constantly sympathetic toward this miserable brat excusing him running roughshod over anybody and anything to feed his own narrow needs.
For example, when he decides to make a device to harvest more efficiently, he steals a vital part from some hard working poor people. This either puts them temporarily out of business or out of business until they can replace it - at enormous cost to them. He could have bought it with his pin money but instead he steals it from poor people. When caught, all the sympathy of the movie is on his side. Personally, I would have loved to see the poor victims of his theft beat him senseless.
In fact, thinking about this entire movie, the thing which is missing is that Dean isn't beaten and expelled from the town. Everybody would have been better off and the movie would have been enormously more satisfying.
Elia Kazan, no matter what one thinks of his political indiscretions, did direct some brilliant motion pictures, but EAST OF EDEN is not only his best but, certainly, one of the finest movies ever produced out of Hollywood. One can sense the worth of the film immediately in the scene where James Dean stealthily follows his 'mother' Jo Van Fleet down a dusy street. One can actually see the heat rising from the street, and the cinematography makes one feel lost in the hot temperature. From that moment on, EAST OF EDEN, though only a portion of the book, stands as one of those rare films in which everything comes together with an emotional explosion that never lets up, building to a climax of greatness. James Dean gives one of the screen's finest performances, and his scenes with Raymond Massey detonate with the power of emotions unchecked and real. Julie Harris is equally remarkable, as is Richard Davalos as Dean's brother who helps to lead the story directly into a parallel with the Cain-Abel conflict. Jo Van Fleet deserves her Oscar and every other honor, and Lois Smith breaks your heart in her small role as a trapped young girl in VanFleet's 'house'. Rosenman's scoring is likewise stunning and always 'right'. EAST OF EDEN stands with CITIZEN KANE, 2001, THE THIRD MAN, and very few others, as a milestone in helping us to applaud filmmaking as an art form.
In 1917, in Monterey, California, Cal (James Dean) is a youngster needy
of fatherly love. His father Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) is a farmer
that favors his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) and they believe that
their mother died when they were children. One day, Cal discovers that
his mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet) is still alive and is the owner of a
brothel in the nearby Salinas. However he keeps his discovery in secret
and does not tell to his father and brother.
When Adam decides to invest in the transportation of frozen lettuce, there is a problem on the railroad and he loses his saving. Cal contacts Kate and borrows five thousand dollars to invest in the promising bean business since the United States has entered in the World War I to recover his father's money and earn his love. Meanwhile Aron's girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) and Cal fall in love with each other. Cal is well succeeded in his business and decides to give a surprise birthday party organized by Abra to his father to give his money as a birthday gift. The reaction of Adam and Aron trigger a series of incidents with tragic consequences.
"East of Eden" is a movie directed by Elia Kazan with a story slightly based on Cain and Abel, with the rivalry of two brothers since Cal is a needy young man and Aron is envious of his brother. The movie shows the treatment spent to German immigrants when the United States joined the war. The open conclusion induces to the redemption of Cal after the tragedy in his family. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Vidas Amargas" ("Bitter Lives")
Elia Kazan directs this heated, occasionally heavy-handed or melodramatic adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel (the final stages of it, anyway). It features a great cast, gorgeous locations, superb cinematography, majestic scoring--but is encumbered by a script with too much ground to cover; there are enough story threads and characters here for two more pictures. In 1917 Northern California, a genial single father and lettuce farmer--just discovering the merits of refrigeration--juggles his attention and affections between his two sons, one a straight arrow with a steady girl and the other a hell-raising hot-head. The bad son is determined to find out what's become of his mother, reputed dead but really making a decent living as a madame in nearby Monterey; his clean-cut brother, who harbors deep-seated jealousies, is concerned about the impending war with Germany and his own non-involvement (read: cowardice). At times overstated, and with a showy side that reveals a certain self-consciousness, "East of Eden" could surely do without the Biblical parallels and implications, however it does give its talented performers exceptionally meaty roles to play. James Dean cuts a dandy presence on the screen; though he sometimes comes off as a junior version of Brando, Dean nevertheless owns the film while conveying a range of hyper-sensitive moods quite compellingly. Richard Davalos, playing Abel to Dean's Cain, perhaps isn't quite in the same league as his co-star, but he's well-cast and looks astonishingly like Dean. Julie Harris, as the nice, decent girl who is attracted to both brothers, does the hand-wringing bit convincingly enough, and her bedside speech near the finale is genuinely moving. Jo Van Fleet won a Supporting Oscar as the boys' intimidating mother, Raymond Massey does solid work as their father, and Burl Ives is the cool-headed local law. Some of the editing is sloppy (especially in the early scenes), and indeed the picture seems to begin in the middle of this tale, with bold undercurrents we sense but are not privy to. It's a good film, not a great one, and keeps to the right side of soap opera thanks to forceful interaction, a beautiful production design, and the sweep of grand storytelling. **1/2 from ****
East Of Eden is one of those movies I saw as a teenager where I felt a great kinship with its protagonist. Directed by Elia Kazan in blazing color, featuring James Dean in his first major, as well as Julie Harris and Raymond Massey, it's a film that just doesn't make it with me any more. Adapted from a Steinbeck novel, Eden is a modern retelling of the Cain and Abel story, which is the least of its problems. What makes the picture so difficult to watch now is also what made it so compelling before: James Dean. He's awful. Not just awful but hideously awful. How responsible and intelligent people ever could for an instant entertain the notion that this self-absorbed, swaggering exhibitionistic egomaniac was a good let alone great actor is beyond me. As to the kids, well, they're kids; they'll identify with anything rebellious, as I did. But grownups ought to know better. Dean comes across like a bad Saturday Night Live imitation of himself; he's so hammy, continually forcing the attention on himself, that he throws what might otherwise have been a decent movie way out of kilter. What's worse, Kazan, normally a director with a good sense of dramatic pacing, seems to have taken cues from his lead actor, because it looks to me like James Dean directed the damn thing as well as acted in it. The movie is overblown from the start, and the characters often seem to be in ongoing group therapy sessions rather than people interacting in real life, time and space. Every few minutes, it seems, there has to be a climax. Not a dramatic climax, built up to by having characters with real problems confronting one another, but big cinematic climaxes, with odd camera angles and blaring music, always way over the top. There seem to be subtexts abounding in this film, as if it had a private meaning for each member of the cast and crew. There's a soft, earth-motherish Julie Harris perspective; a stern, moralistic Raymond Massey one; a folsky, warm and understanding but no-nonsense Burl Ives view of things; and of course, always intruding on everyone else, the predictably deranged and obnoxious James Dean take on life. Even Leonard Rosenman's musical score seems weirdly connected to the feelings it accompanies, as if even the composer was working inside the heads of the actors. Theres's something sick and self-pitying about this film; it's the ultimate fifties trip. Though it's set around the time of the First World War, it feels like a beatnick's lament for the Eisenhower years.
Years after Steinbeck wrote the novel so many love, and which I read after seeing the movie, he wrote a short book about his writing of "East of Eden". He confessed that the first 3/4 of the novel was a wandering in the desert, as he had an idea of what he was trying to say about good and evil, but it did not really come to him till he was almost finished. He said he realized that good and evil were choices, but he also came to realize that this choice is often a gift .. and he made clear that, while he is not a religious person, he did see "the light" in view of the New Testament version of God (loving and forgiving) versus the Old Testament version, which tends to be more judgemental. At that point, he finally knew how to end his long, wavering novel: With the very story of Cal and Aron, sons of Adam Trask, and a reverse version of the Cain and Abel story, a New Testament version, if you will. Therefore, for everyone who loves the book, that's great. But keep in mind that the book's author preferred the movie's emphasis over the complete novel's, and in fact, helped write the screenplay and attended the opening of the film, after which he heaped praise upon it as capturing the essence of what he was attempting to say throughout his novel. The movie is a masterpiece.
"East of Eden", based on the novel by John Steinbeck, concerns an
upright father (Raymond Massey) and his two sons: one whom he considers
good (Richard Davalos) and another whom he considers bad (James Dean).
The story is influenced by the biblical story of Cain & Abel while much
of the film focuses on Dean's character striving to earn the love of
The cast is a pretty good one. James Dean received a posthumous Oscar nomination for what was his first major film role. I think that his performance here is every bit as memorable as his work in "Rebel Without a Cause". Jo Van Fleet ended up winning an Oscar for her performance while Julie Harris also delivered a fine performance. Unfortunately, I found the performances of Richard Davalos & Raymond Massey too bland to stand out, especially in comparison to the other cast members.
Elia Kazan's direction was good enough to land a Best Director Oscar nomination but I don't think that the film looks quite as good as other films of his. The score by Leonard Rosenman is stirring and is showcased in an overture at the beginning of the film.
I would certainly recommend this film to anyone wanting to know what all the fuss is about James Dean. Even if you're not interested in him particularly, you'll likely find the story an enthralling one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't read John Steinbeck's novel "East of Eden," but I'm familiar
with enough of the author's work to know that he wasn't a "glass half-
full" kind of man. Steinbeck's characters appear to persist despite
their misery, devoid of hope and comfort, and persevering out of sheer
bloody-mindedness. This potentially poses a problem, because Hollywood
has traditionally taken the stance that it is optimism, not pessimism,
that sells tickets. This clash of sensibilities is seen readily enough
in 'The Grapes of Wrath (1940),' in which John Ford's assurance in the
hardiness of American families sits at odds with Steinbeck's stark
brand of realism. Nevertheless, Elia Kazan was an ideal candidate to
adapt the 1952 novel "East of Eden," having already dealt with
unflinching dramatic themes of family and societal conflict in the
films 'A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)' and 'On the Waterfront (1954).'
The pair had collaborated previously, with Steinbeck writing the
screenplay for Kazan's Mexican Revolution biopic 'Viva Zapata! (1952).'
Whereas 'A Streetcar Named Desire' had been a completely stage-bound film, owing to origins on Broadway, 'East of Eden (1955)' allowed Kazan to spread his cinematic wings, so to speak. Steinbeck had intended his novel, in part, as a tribute to the Salinas Valley in Northern California, and so location is everything. Cinematographer Ted McCord captures the setting in lush WarnerColor, the fertile green fields consciously opposed to the bleak inner conflict raging inside the heart of the film's protagonist. Despite being visually impressive, it is as in all Kazan pictures the director's genius for working with actors that really shines through. James Dean, in his major picture debut (and the first of only three lead roles), delivers one of the most heartbreakingly tragic performances I've ever seen. His Cal, the Biblical Cain to Richard Davalos' Abel, has endured a life without love, every misguided bid for his father's (Raymond Massey) approval met with indifference or remonstration, as though only to cement his self-belief that he is inherently "bad."
In adapting "East of Eden," another director might have aimed for sheer scope, winding up with something not unlike 'Gone with the Wind (1939)' or 'Duel in the Sun (1946).' Instead, Kazan plays his strengths, and it's a telling sign that the film's most powerful moments unfold, not in the outside environments that McCord captures so well, but between four walls inside homes, sheds, and brothels. Dean's character skulks mousily in the corners, fearful about making eye contact, as his articulate, proper brother Aron makes unconsciously-condescending remarks, perpetuating stereotypes that have been drummed into both since childhood. Only Aron's sweetheart Abra (Julie Harris) understands Cal's torment at the hands of his cold, naive family members, but by then it may already be too late to save him. At under two hours, 'East of Eden' perhaps doesn't explore its characters and their motivations as fully as it might have for example, Aron's metaphorical "slaying" at his brother's hand isn't give enough exposition but nonetheless stands as a beautiful and astonishingly powerful piece of storytelling.
O.k. I know, I know....books and films are two different art forms and
little can be gained by comparing the telling of the same story in one
vs. the other. I'm a firm advocate of that myself. However, let me just
say that you cannot watch this film as a substitute of the Steinbeck
novel (though a film should *never* be used as a stand in for
literature in my opinion). Kazan et al. very liberally adapt
Steinbeck's story to the big screen and make a very impressive film;
however, it's not the same story Steinbeck himself was telling.
That aside, "East of Eden" is a good (not quite great, but close) film from a very inconsistent period of American film making (i.e. the mid-50's.) Cinemascope and other widescreen processes were new, and many directors were content just to train their cameras on a pretty landscape and think that was enough to make their compositions interesting. However, Elia Kazan, completely at home in the stark b&w worlds of "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" obviously knew what to do with his widescreen compositions, and, as a result, "East of Eden" is far more dynamic than many films from the same time period. For example, in an early scene, Cal (James Dean) walks along a stand of trees beside his brother and his brother's soon-to-be fiancé. While they're talking, Cal walks deeper into the frame and follows the other two while hidden from us and them by the trees. This of course serves the purpose of communicating Cal's isolation, but it also seems like a perfectly natural thing for Cal's character to do and so doesn't feel obvious or heavy handed, and it's visually interesting, and so breaks up the frame. Kazan adds touches like that throughout the entire film. Even if they don't always work (the skewed angles toward the end are somewhat corny), they're appreciated for their attempts to create a unique visual style.
James Dean just wasn't a very good actor, but he was an interesting screen presence. He was always sulking around and looking uncomfortable in his own skin, which is probably why teenagers at the time related to him so much, and why he seems so right for the role of Cal. The women in this film deliver the best performances. Julie Harris does much with a somewhat thankless role through her naturalistic acting, and Jo Van Fleet is simply terrific in a role that amounts to one significant scene. I'm not sure she deserved an Oscar for her (maybe) ten minutes of screen time, but she does manage to make Kate into a memorable character in the blink of an eye. Indeed, the film's greatest disservice to the novel is in reducing Kate's character to nothing more than a plot device. Anyone who's read the book remembers what a vivid character Steinbeck creates of her, and it's a shame the film couldn't take more advantage of that.
What the movie comes down to thematically is an investigation into the "good" vs. "bad" impulses that exist in everyone, and whether or not we are forced into one of these two polar opposites by fate or have the ability to decide for ourselves which one we'll choose. It's an absorbing film and one of the must sees from one of the most interesting decades for the art form.
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