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|Index||179 reviews in total|
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Of all three films featured in Warner's new James Dean box set, Elia
Kazan's "East Of Eden" (1955) is probably the most anticipated, and for
good reason. For in its brilliant pacing, its strong characterizations
and its intensity and honesty, it remains one of a handful of 50s films
that consistently holds up under even the most hardened scrutiny of
today's cynical film critic. Long precluded from general release,
because of a rights issue, this film based on John Steinbeck's classic
literary masterwork of paradise lost, takes place in Salinas Valley, in
and around World War I. James Dean is ideally cast as Cal Trask, a
brash young man of conviction who feels he is being forced to compete
for fatherly nepotism against his brother Aron (Richard Davalos). The
boy's father, lettuce farmer, Adam (Raymond Massey) to be sure, favors
Aron. Hence, around every corner, in every venture or endeavor that Cal
undertakes, he is frustrated and ultimately defeated.
Eventually the two brothers grow in conflict over Abra (Julie Harris) a fine young flower of a girl who at first takes a shine to Aron but slowly begins to appreciate the finer character in Cal. This Cain and Abel-ish tale slowly unravels to its tragic end, but in such a swell of emotion and longing, that the viewer is quite suddenly astonished to recognize the long absence in our own character driven dramas that current cinema culture seems to have completely forgotten about. In their cameos as kept women of a brothel Anne and Kate the latter being Cal's mother - Jo Van Fleet and Lois Smith absolutely tear one's heart out with their subtle and poignant performances. Kazan, who was soon to be labeled a communist by HUAC then exonerated for naming names, but blacklisted by his own kind in Hollywood, very clearly has a handle on what makes Steinbeck's novel tick. He fills the vast expanses of Cinemascope with subtle nuances that make the fish-eye process seem intimate and sleek, and he imbues the overriding narrative with a particularly touching sense of lost love and looming tragedy that works so well, one almost forgets this is a movie.
Of all three films included in the James Dean box set, this is the one that looks the worst on DVD. Having said that, the results are not all together terrible. Though the palette of color is rather faded in comparison to the other two films reviewed (Rebel Without A Cause, and , Giant) alone it is quite adequate for a film of this vintage. Flesh tones are slightly pasty. Blacks are generally more deep brown or gray than black. Whites are rarely clean. There is a considerable amount of film grain during scene transitions, as is in keeping with early Cinemascope productions. The anamorphically enhanced DVD is otherwise par for the course. The audio is 5.1 and exhibits a dated, but accurate characteristic. Extras include a biography and an intense making of documentary, as well as audio commentary and theatrical trailer. Overall, nicely put together from the good people over at Warner and so right to have this film back where it belongs amongst the all time great works of art in American cinema.
I'm amazed that I've not written a comment on this cinematic icon before. What we have here is one of the holy trinity for Dean worshipers, the others being Rebel without a Cause and Giant. Well, I remember 45+ years ago when James Dean was killed outside of Paso Robles. I know that stretch of road well having spent a lot of time going between Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo, but I also remember seeing this film the year before. I was less interested in Dean's being in it because he was relatively unknown at the time, having only one line in a horrible Martin and Lewis comedy ("That man's a professional")(ugh). What really drew me into the theater was the coming to the screen of Steinbeck's long California novel, East of Eden. Steinbeck had written the book several years before, based on the struggle between two brothers in their quest for approval from a distant father. I was greatly disappointed in the movie because of the radical departures from the original book but taken with the chemistry between Dean and Julie Harris. A most underrated actress, she brings the element of Eve to the dyad of the two brothers. The favored brother, Aron (Steinbeck was hardly subtle with the names, Caleb and Aron, sons of Adam) is played by Richard Davalos (who?), whom most of us only recognize from bit parts in Kelly's Heroes and a few others. Veteran character and stage actor Raymond Massey does his usual excellent protrayal as does folk singer and fine actor, Burl Ives. But, Jo Van Fleet dang near steals the show. In effect, I was taken by the film even though I'd read the book and was expecting a great deal more of Steinbeck and less of Kazan. (Yeah, I know. Shoulda known better) So impressed was I that I went to see the film again and have seen it at least a dozen times since. The story is an old one and based on the book of Genesis, but it's really even older than that. Sibling rivalry is an ancient source of myth and is reflected by various archetypes. That is not what makes this film great. It is Dean, Van Fleet and Julie Harris and the darkness that Kazan imbues into this story. It is the quest for truth and the agony of discovery that makes this film work. There's no justice here. Only the perpetual drama of human emotions. Dean had a magic moment. His next film, Rebel became a classic and vaulted him into the league of legend. His premature death elevated him even loftier into the world of myth. We can only wonder what would have happened, if he'd have lived. Would he have become a silly reminder of his iconic past, ala Brando? We'll never know. All we have are these three films...
This movie simplifies the book down to a plot of a troubled "teen"
(James Dean a bit too old at 24) trying to win approval from an overly
This boiled down story from Steinbeck's book is not particularly lame by Hollywood standards and stands on its own. Dean is decent in the role...Kate is simply a hard hooker not the demonic character in the book who burns her parents alive.
However it disappoints because the book has such interesting characters like Kate and Lee. All the movie offers is some sort of dull coming of age thing.
But how can a movie possibly cover a long novel?---it can't in fact when movies try to cover books too fully the result is always bad---with rapid untethered jarring snippets of dialogue and action from the book which if covered fully would take 50 hours of screen time.
The German who is barely covered in the book gets much too big a role in this movie in some sort of Hollywood PC moral lesson...other than that I guess the biggest complaint is it is all rather boring.
In the end Caleb wins his Dad's love when his Dad asks him to take the place of the nurse. Yawn...
Do Not Recommend
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