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|Index||173 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", 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.
***SPOILERS*** Always feeling that he took after his dead mother Cal
Trask, James Dean, doing some investigating on his own finally tracked
her down running a saloon/bordello in Monterey Calif. The Salinas
teenager's attempt to finally meet his mother, who was said to have
died after he was born, turned into a disaster with him being thrown
out, because he was too young to drink, of his mothers place of
It's when we get to meet both Cal's father Adam Trask, Raymond Massey, and twin brother Aaron, Richard Davalos, we see why he's so full of rage and contradictions. Being treated by his father as the black sheep of the family Cal had developed over the years a disturbing self-hatred of not only himself but the world at large. It's when he finally got to see his mother Kate, Jo Van Fleet, and realized that his father kept the fact of her being alive a secret from him, as well as his brother Aaron, Cal's obsession of him taking after her became crystal clear. Like himself Kate was denied Cal's father, and her husbands, love for she was too independent and strong willed, like her son Cal, for Adam to control with his over the top Bible thumping sermons and false humility.
It's when Cal tried to win his father's love by giving him a birthday present of $5,000.00 that he lost in a failed vegetable refrigeration venture that the proverbial sh*t finally hit the fan. His father refusing to take the money because Cal made it by manipulation the commodity market, in beans, in him expecting the US to enter the war, WWI, in Europe was the last straw for Cal. Giving Cal a BS sermon of not wanting to get rich off other people's suffering, in being killed and wounded on the Western Front, was really the hight of hypocrisy on the sanctimonious Adam Trusk's part. Adam was in fact a member of the local Salinas draft board where he willingly sent young men, excluding his two sons Cal & Aaron, to the front lines to do just what he told Cal he was totally against! Killing or being killed on the battlefields of France and Belgium! Not only that Adams felt absolutely no guilt at all in getting a paycheck, from the US War Department, in doing his job! Yet at the same time he put his son Cal down for profiting because off the war in his bean commodity trading!
While all this was going on Cal, being the handsome devil that he is, had the sweet and caring Abra, Julie Harris, who's his brother's girlfriend fall madly in love with him that complicated matters, between the two brothers, even farther! Feeling dejected and abandoned by everyone, with the exception of Abra, that he loved and cared for Cal loses it and takes it out both on his father Adam and his smirking and always on the side good & righteousness brother Aaron. It's then that Cal, who already knew what the score was, takes Aaron down to the whorehouse & saloon in Monterey and shows him that his mother Kate is not only alive but not the angel in heaven that he thought, and what his father told him, that she was!
The terrible shock that Aaron was subjected to completely flipped him out and caused him, a life long pacifist, to enlist in the US military. Stark raving mad Aaron put his head through a plate glass window, on the troop train taking him to the nearest US army base, in front of both his shocked and startled father Adam and brother Cal. As for Old Man Trask his holier then thou act totally unraveled, at the pathetic sight of his #1 son Aaron, where he suffered a near fatal stroke, or brain hemorrhage, that left him paralyzed for the reminder-as short as it was going to be-life!
In the end Cal did get the love from his father that was denied to him all his life but at a terrible price. With Aaron no longer around, and probably either dead or in an insane asylum, Old Man Trusk had no choice but to have his now only son Cal look after him for the little time he still had left on this earth!
James Dean's unbelievable and electrifying performance in the movie as the moody and unpredictable Cal Trask made him one of Hollywood's brightest star overnight. Dean's road to stardom, and a very promising film career, didn't last long with it leading to that fateful and last Friday in September 1955 on the intersection of US Route 46 and state Route 41. It was there in the early autumn twilight on that lonely stretch of California highway where James Dean ended up getting killed in a fatal car crash while driving his beloved sliver Porsche Spyder: The $7,000.00, in 1955 dollars, sports car that he bought with the money he earned staring in the film "East of Eden".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's something that's almost majestic about Elia Kazan's "East of
Eden". It casts a spell about the audience; the very definition of
"gripping". At the same time, some characters suffer because of the
film's focus on Cal (James Dean), to some extent at the expense of the
other characters, primarily his father Adam (Ray Massey) and brother
Aron (Richard Davalos), and the primary family relationship which the
story deals with in allegorical Biblical terms.
Dean's Cal is a study in the self-doubt and confusion of youth that stands the test of time and even transcends the categories of "cool" and "rebel" that to some extent limit the appeal of his character in Nick Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause". One interesting thing about the structure of the story is that to begin with Cal is an unpredictable and potentially dangerous presence. There's a note of fear in the reaction of his loved ones when he spontaneously begins to hurl giant blocks of ice out of his father's barn the action actually seems random to them but what we see as the audience, thanks to Kazan's inter-cutting between Abra and Aron's Victorian lovemaking and Cal's reactions to their words gives us clues to the psychology of the character. Kazan builds upon this type of device for the rest of the film, until we reach a point in the middle of the film (particularly when Aron seems to become unhinged at the possibility of going to war) where it is hard to decide which of the two brothers is more sympathetic or real to us, and finally by the end of the film the audience's sympathies and understanding have completely shifted from the "normal" son Aron to the "crazy" Cal. What makes all this reach a higher level is the fact that their father Adam still has not made the transition that Cal has made, so there's a shift in the audience's reaction to Adam's behavior and philosophies as well. We see quite a bit of his hypocrisy, but the film's focus and Cal's own sympathies never sway completely to the kind of naked derision that Van Fleet's Kate displays toward Adam with regards to his moral righteousness. Thus we as the audience can empathize with nearly every character in the film, although unfortunately a minor flaw could be pointed out in that Aron's character becomes somewhat less nuanced as the film progresses and as his dramatic function begins to subsume the more subtle aspects of his character that could have been explored. Davalos gives an impressive performance in the early parts of the film but as his character's role is diminished his performance seems to become more frenetic, as if he felt that he needed to make up for the lack of quantity in terms of screen time by playing to the back rows. Probably it fits into Kazan's more general plan of shifting the audience's sympathies from Aron to Cal, but I felt that the uneven quality of Davalos' performance was one of the film's only flaws.
Julie Harris' Abra is perhaps the most believable and stirring performance in the film a pretty hefty accomplishment considering she was going up against heavyweights like the young Dean and elder Massey. Her character moves her affections from Aron to Cal at precisely the same moments that the audience should (if Kazan did his job well, which I think he did), but far more so than that, she also eventually represents the emotional bridge between the father and son. There are moments of great tenderness in her portrayal and also moments where she shows great strength and maturity her character is naive, particularly sexually, but she's brave enough to go after what she wants even if she's not completely sure what it is. By the film's emotionally draining climax, she has gone from being a girl to being a woman just as surely or perhaps more so than Cal has gone from being a boy to a man. You can learn everything you need to know about Cal's and Adam's relationship just by watching her reaction to what they say and do.
I think the film's pivotal moment is the "gift giving" scene, clearly modeled on the passages in Genesis relating to the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. Adam refuses Cal's gift of money because he sees it as war profit, whereas he embraces Aron's gift an announcement of impending marriage to Abra. The scene is exceptionally powerful because our knowledge includes many facts that Adam seems unaware of, perhaps even willfully ignorant of. He tells Cal that only Aron's gift is "honest and true", but the facts as we know them are that Abra does not love Aron, and that Cal's gift truly represents a great sacrifice and a great step forward towards independence. It wasn't easy for Cal to ask Kate for the money to start his farm, and in the extraordinarily photographed scene (special mention for the quality of this film should go to DP Ted McCord) with Cal at the bean field we see that he has truly put the best parts of his heart and soul into the effort. Cal goes off the deep end, but by this point in the film we understand his character and his history particularly the difficulty of living under the crushing burden of his father's expectations that we tend to blame Adam more for the fallout than Cal. For a moment it feels that we may be on the cusp of a serious tragedy, but Abra's understanding and love for Cal provide a bridge between the two men that allows for a powerful and satisfying conclusion devoid of empty sorrow.
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.
I hadn't seen this movie since the 50's when I saw it at least 4 or 5 times. I didn't want to see it again since then because they never released a widescreen tape of it. So I waited and waited and finally it arrived, and just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his 3 movies and to remember the premature departing of such a great actor. The first thing I did was to see the movie and I couldn't be more happy to see it in the original cinemascope ratio and the stereo sound. But I got happier with the surprise that comes on the second DVD, with the deleted scenes and the screen tests and trailer (dvd #1). But the best part to me was to see him acting doing the wardrobe tests, particularly the one with Lois Smith. Where it seems that he ends up seducing her and saying to himself: "hey I was only acting!. Also there is a scene in the trailer when Julie tells him that she loves him, that was cut from the film and I think it should have been included. So thank you to whom it may concern for the treat. I just hope that the young people give it a try, after all is not in b/w. I'm sure they will love it, it's better than most of the new ones. Just like good wine, it gets better with the years.
In my teens, I started to get interested in movies. I heard about this James Dean who was killed in an auto crash and what a loss it was to Hollywood. But I did not know what this meant. Then I saw "East of Eden". The moment he came on screen, staking out his "business woman" mother (Cate, the owner of a brothel, played by Jo VanFleet) in 1917 Monterey, I saw pain that I could identify with, even though I came from a completely different kind of family. The director, Elia Kazan, fascinated me with the ways that he occasionally tilted the camera during very tense moments, and this was particularly effective, because the picture was in Cinemascope, which was, at that time, that unusually wide screen. The pain of Cal Trask in trying to earn -- and finally buy -- his father's love, was enough to make me cry. It still is. I am looking forward to the day when they put this video on widescreen, the way it was intended. When I see it panned and scanned, I wince at the really powerful scenes that are ruined because you cannot see what is going on. I know that many feel that James Dean gave his best performance in "Rebel Without A Cause", but I maintain that "East of Eden" is his finest work. I have seen this movie, in the theaters and on video, well over 20 times, and the power is always there. I always tear up during the final scene, when you cannot hear what Adam Trask is saying to his son, Cal (Dean), but the son's face tells all. It is one of the most memorable scenes. I also love the one-on-one meeting of Cal and Cate, the "garden of Eden" backyard scene where Cal seduces his brother Aron into seeing his mother as revenge, and of course, the key scene when Adam will not take the money that Cal worked so hard to give him. This is one of the most powerful human dramas ever on film, possibly only second to "Streetcar Named Desire" (also a Kazan film). My father was about Cal's age in 1917, and his father was very righteous, so I saw the kind of life (reaction to WWI) my father might have lived, had he not been faced with the choice that Cal had: Do I buy my father's love? or Do I make it impossible for my father to love me?
*** 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.
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