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Powerhouse Film, Powerhouse Performances
Ever felt lost?--have trouble finding your place in the world?--feel jealous of, or ignored by, a family member? If you answered yes to any of these questions, beware--the resonance you may feel toward the characters of this film may be so intense, the emotional pull of its story so overwhelming, that at its end you will find yourself exhausted, spent, trembling in its cathartic wake. I find it so every time I see it. As an examination of the terrible undercurrents in family relationships, of adolescent angst and loneliness, of the universal need for love and the awful consequences of its being withheld, it is nearly peerless. Movies that toyed with similar themes, like "The Graduate" or "Rebel Without a Cause," though great films, do not come close to packing the emotional wallop this film delivers.

To a large part, the intensity of the affective response generated by watching "East of Eden" must be attributed to the strength of the performances. No false notes here. Raymond Massey, a truly superb actor who has largely, and undeservedly, been forgotten, gives one of his best performance as the father with a secret, a man with the best intentions in the world, who has nonetheless unwittingly crippled his son Cal with his sometimes harsh criticisms and his favoritism of his brother Aron. Julie Harris is simply wonderful as Abra, a young woman who gradually becomes disenchanted with the "perfect" brother, Aron, finding herself becoming more and more interested in the vaguely frightening, yet vulnerable Cal. Her "speech" near the end of the film to Cal's father is heartrending. Everyone else is fine, from the always dependable Burl Ives to Albert Decker, and Jo van Fleet deserves special mention as the supposedly dead mother. The vehicle which propels the film, however, is James Dean who not only gives the best performance in his all too short career, but one of the best in cinematic history. It is truly amazing to watch him work here. The viewer becomes like putty in his hands, bending and rending our emotions at will. It's a performance not to be missed.

The movie has received criticism because it does not follow the book, and leaves out at least the first two thirds of the novel. "East of Eden" is one of my favorite books, yet I have no trouble accepting this film on its own merits--which are considerable. A movie CANNOT be a book, though there have been several directors who seem blithely unaware of this giving us plodding movies straight-jacketed by their literary source. One cannot judge this movie solely by comparing it to the book, and with each deviation from the source, give it a demerit. I believe this movie is every bit as great as the book--but it is NOT the book. And John Steinbeck himself loved this movie, reportedly saying that the movie was a greater achievement than his book had been. That's a recommendation good enough for me, and should be enough for the lovers of the book. You CAN love both. I do.
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Dean's Best Performance-An Outstanding Film
aimless-4617 November 2006
If you have ever come out on the short end of a sibling rivalry and/or felt seriously wronged by a parent(s), you will probably connect nicely with "East of Eden" (1955). Since the majority of viewers meet these criteria it is easy to see why the film finds a new audience with each generation. And it is easy to understand the tears that are often shed by both first-time and repeat viewers.

Although set at the start of World War I, the generational issues portrayed really had came to a head by the mid-1950's. Which is why the film was so timely and contemporary when it was released. It was Elia Kazan's troubled relationship with his own father that first attracted him to Steinbeck's novel and caused him to focus the film on the portion of the story that addressed this issue.

Originally I ranked it a distant third in the James Dean film pecking order but over the years it has somehow passed "Giant" and "Rebel Without a Cause" IMHO, and I now find it to be clearly his best and more enduring work. It is a real actors/director's film, with just six significant characters and with especially good performances from Dean and from Julie Harris. Both were a bit old for their parts but Dean's boyish manner allowed him to sell the character and Harris (who had convincingly played a twelve year old just a few years earlier in "Member of the Wedding") looks the proper age in every scene except one (an outdoor scene shot in the bright sun). She struggles sometimes with reining in her sophistication but that could just be the subjective perception of this viewer.

Here are some random points to appreciate in this great film:

Don't misinterpret Cal's (Dean) motivation, he is not doing things to win his father's love but because he loves his father (communicated by the early scene where he watches his father working in the kitchen). The former motivation would be simplistic; the latter opens up a host of interesting and ironic interpretations as you realize the seemingly bad son Cal actually understands his father and admires his goodness more than "good" son Aron (Richard Davalos).

Aron is not really the innocent figure he appears to be, he does not like Cal and throughout the film betrays him.

Abra (Harris) is caught between the two brothers, moving steadily from Aron to Cal as the film progresses. Aron represents everything she understands that she should be and Cal represents everything she has been denying herself. The story is largely seen from her point of view, and her growth parallels her (and the audiences) slow realization that Cal is not bad but misunderstood. The two are slowly falling in love but do not kiss until she gets up in the ferris wheel, a place where (symbolically) she is no longer standing on solid practical ground.

It is really a coming of age story for both of them, with Abra slowly embracing new areas of human experience and Cal moving from adolescence to manhood; thanks largely to her timely interventions. Watch for subtle details that Kazan has included, like Cal's inability to make extended eye contact with his father, brother, and mother; something that he has no problem doing with Abra. And Cal's unsteady progress as he moves forward momentarily and then retreats by looking away.

Note Kazan's use of a raked camera angle for the scenes inside the Trask home, unfortunately this device is a little too extreme and calls attention to itself. Also used in "The Third Man", it was done here to reinforce the off-kilter nature of this family's dynamic. It goes away after the scene in which Cal finally confronts his lifelong jealousy of his brother and accuses his father of rejecting him because he is so much like his mother, telling Adam (Raymond Massey) that he cannot forgive himself for having married Kate. This is the point at which Cal moves forward into permanent manhood, prior to this he had stepped forward briefly and then retreated back into childhood.

Watch for the method-acting device of an actor playing with an object as a means to introduce naturalism into the scene (Abra first flirts with Cal with a flower, Jo Van Fleet makes a show of taking out and lighting a cigarette, Cal repeatedly dips his finger into a wine glass). "East of Eden" would be nothing but an overwrought melodrama without a host of little things like this that humanize the story.

Watch for the awkward tension in all the scenes between Cal and Adam, Kazan cultivated the off-screen friction between Dean and Massey; reasoning that it would translate into more realistic on-screen sequences between the two actors.

Watch for the stunning sequence late in the film when Cal slowly moves out from under the tree branches (his menace reinforced nicely by the score).

Finally note the contrast between the restrained closing scene (which is also the climax) and the melodramatic style of the almost everything that has preceded it in the film.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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Perhaps the best of the three?
blackitty22 November 2003
I recently purchased this film, having never seen it before, and feeling somewhat peeved at the fact that it is never shown on TCM. Immediately, I recognized it as one of the best films ever made. The adaptation from the very dense and wonderful Steinbeck novel obviously required much of the relationship between Adam and Charles to be deleted, however I felt the film did not suffer from this at all.

James Dean is a completely different animal than the other actors of his time, and from start to finish in this film, he is spellbinding. The emotional intensity and reality he brings to the film is so convincing it is almost painful to watch at times, especially when he goes to see his mother for the first time and he desperately tries to speak to her as he is being wrenched away. The tone of his voice, his subtle gestures, his utter desperation for love is amazing and completely his own. I once read that Dean did not consider East of Eden to be his best film, but I disagree with him there. I have never seen a film (or an actor) that even came close to matching this one, particularly when viewed from its position in time and the nature of cinema in the 1950s. James Dean put himself 'out there' emotionally in such a raw way that the power of that brave acting yet holds the ability to touch the audience with every viewing. I think the film makes a hugely important statement about the human condition that is still valid a half a century later.
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Is there any law against writing a review?
Brandt Sponseller7 June 2005
First I'll throw in my two cents on an issue I wish I didn't have to comment on. Almost everyone knows that East of Eden is based on the novel by John Steinbeck. Although I'm more of a fan of fantastic and surreal literature, Steinbeck and Hemingway are probably my two favorite realist authors. East of Eden is an epic masterpiece, well worth reading. It's also close to 200,000 words long, so obviously, some details and plot points are going to be left out or changed in a two-hour movie, and that shouldn't make a difference. The film is a separate artwork in a completely different medium that should be judged on its own merits, not compared to the book. (For more on this, see my "novel to film mini-rant" in my user profile.)

Director Elia Kazan's East of Eden presents itself as a disarmingly simple film. Many might feel that it's slow or uneventful. But the superficial appearance is intentionally misleading, a filmic representation of the elegant austerity of Steinbeck's literary style; the plot, subtexts and filmic artistry are all really quite complex, and this is the rare example of a film that grows on you more and more after you've seen it.

The plot is a rough "modern" (circa the 1910s) retelling of the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, set in and between Salinas and Monterey, California, as an allegory of good versus evil. But both Steinbeck and screenwriter Paul Osborn weave a dense allegorical tapestry, with those polar ethical opposites becoming less clear-cut as the film progresses.

Cain is Cal Trask (James Dean) here, Abel his brother Aron (Richard Davalos). Their father, Adam (Raymond Massey), owns a "ranch" upon which he grows lettuce. He sees the attainment of excessive profit as negative, and instead focuses his intelligence and skills on trying to better mankind somehow, the practical upshot of which is that Adam is trying to conquer the problem of the preservation of (transported, especially) food via refrigeration or freezing. Adam is sternly frugal and religious, and favors Aron. Thus Cal is something of a hoodlum when the film begins. He's irreverent and tends to wander off. We see him being belligerent and somewhat (self) destructive. Aron, in contrast, seems decorous and easy-going, as does his girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris). In other words, Cal and Aron are basically presented as Goofus and Gallant at the start of the film.

Cal and Aron were told by Adam that their mother was dead. But Cal has suspicions about this, and the first part of East of Eden is concerned with Cal's attempt to discover the truth about his mother. He learns the truth, and the second half covers a number of parallel, somewhat unexpected transformations in the Trask family and their close friends. This is also paralleled with the burgeoning of World War I, which has a complex impact on these (then) small California towns.

The first thing that you're likely to notice with the recent Warner Home Video DVD of East of Eden, after the novelty of the 3-minute "Overture" (which doesn't add much at home, but is interesting historically and doesn't negatively affect anything), is the beautiful cinematography. This was one of the earlier "Cinemascope" (anamorphic 35mm widescreen, with up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio) films, shot also with a new "Warner Color" process. The results, employing gorgeous California landscapes artfully shot by cinematographer Ted D. McCord under Kazan's direction, are breathtaking. Everything looks scrumptious--from old downtown streets to the rocky ocean shores, distant mountains over sprawling fields, romantically shot freight trains--even the sugar factory standing in for Adam's "barn" and the Monterey whorehouse are beautifully photographed. One of the more famous scenes features Cal and Abra in a dense, colorful, flower-filled field. The Warner Color manages to look both intense and subdued at the same time, which fits the atmosphere of the film perfectly. Kazan employs a lot of subtle camera motions and angles to emphasize the drama, including marvelously skewed angles during confrontations between Cal and Adam.

The score, by Leonard Rosenman, is also worth mentioning, as the mood of the film hinges on it so much. It's lush and sophisticated, with a slight Aaron Copland flavor to my ears. This was Rosenman's first scoring gig. He had been James Dean's piano teacher and had actually studied with famed 12-tone ("serial") music proponent Arnold Schoenberg. Ironically, he felt himself an odd choice and initially suggested that Kazan ask Copland to score the film instead. That probably led to some of the Coplandish tonalities, although to many ears, Rosenman tends to sound more like Alban Berg, another, more famous, Schoenberg protégé.

Of course as a realist drama, the performances in the film are crucial. Dean is outstanding, as one would expect, but so is Harris and the rest of the cast. Part of this must be due to Kazan, as Harris, for example, doesn't come across nearly as well to me in some of her other films, such as Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963).

If East of Eden has a flaw, it's that its relatively short (compared to the material available) running time makes for some unexplained or shallow turnabouts of character in the complex of good/evil interplay. Aron seems particularly distant to the viewer, for example, which is appropriate to the final state of his character, but which could have been explained better in transformation.

But this is a fabulous film, with grand, biblical and universal subtexts and an unusually developed but extremely charming romance. Unless you're completely averse to realist drama, you must see East of Eden at least once.
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Excellent Story With Characters Who Aren't Always Who They Seem
ccthemovieman-17 March 2007
Wow, what an impressive screen debut for a 24-year-old. That was the famous James Dean, here in his first of three starring roles before death took him at a tragically young age. Just as impressive, however, is the overall performance of the rest of the cast, including lesser-known Richard Davalos, who also was making his movie debut.

The most impressive person connected to this movie, however, was director Elia Kazan who not only excelled directing this film but - in the same year - directed "On The Waterfront." Now, that's not a bad year of work!

"East Of Eden" is billed as a modern-day story of "Cain and Abel," between good and bad brothers with one of them feeling rejected by his father. The small Biblical account of the two brothers only mentions an offering they both gave God and then saying the brother whose offering wasn't accepted went out in a fit of jealousy and killed the other.

True, the "offering" by "Cal" (Dean) and its rejection by his dad "Adam" (Raymond Massey) leads to a climactic scene near the end of the film, but - this is just an assumption - most people viewed this simply as a story between "good" and "evil" pertaining to Dean and Davalos' characters.

I didn't see either of those guys as either the "good" or "bad" brothers. In fact, this film story is unusual in that every main character's personality begins in one direction and, as the film progresses, ends in almost the opposite. Nobody is as they first seem.

"Cale Trask" is shown early on to be a totally rebellious and immature loser who commits a few stupid acts of vandalism and has a desire to be a loner. As the film goes on, we see a softhearted guy who needs and desires love and companionship like everyone else. The fact he only had one parent, and that one didn't seem to love him, has messed his mind up a great deal.

Meanwhile, his older brother "Aron" (Davalos) is pictured as the kind, dependable, levelheaded guy who has a nice sweetheart who he plans to marry very soon. "Aron" has always made his dad proud which makes Cale jealous and bitter (hence, the Cain/Abel analogy.) In the last third of the film, however, Aron's personality reveals some dark, selfish traits and he isn't so "good" anymore.

Julie Harris plays "Abra," who begins as a sweet, likable and trustworthy person but in the end proves insincere in her "ready to marry" and "I'm in love with Aron" remarks as her feelings develop for the younger brother. She does a nice job at the end, however, helping Cale reconcile with his ailing dad.

The fourth major player, the father of the two boys, is portrayed - at least by Cale - as man who has played favorites with his sons and is more of a businessman than a loving father. However, we see later that he is not a bad guy at all. He is happy to praise his younger son when merited, is quick to forgive but, like a lot of fathers in "the old days," I believe, had a hard time outwardly expressing love for his children despite, in his heart wanting the best for them.

The fifth major character in the film, "Kate," has the least amount of lines but is the most powerful figure in the movie. She's the mother who abandoned her kids when they were babies and left her husband because she "didn't want to be tied down to a ranch." Wow, Thank God our mothers didn't have that selfish attitude! She's pictured as a very hard, bitter woman who has made a success of herself and to hell with everyone else. However, once again, as the story unfolds, we see an opposite side. Cale, checking rumors she was in the area, sought her out and discovered she, indeed, was his mom. (Nobody in the Trask family knew she lived nearby, with the dad telling the kids she was dead rather than risk hurting their feelings.). Anyway, later she surprises us by softening up and loaning Cal $5,000 for a business venture to help him and help bail out his dad. That amount of money is equal to at least $100,000 today, so it's a generous, kind person who would say "okay" to that monetary request. The more she speaks, the softer she sounds, even if she wouldn't want to admit it.

The only character I wish had a bigger role was "Anne," played by Lois Smith, who was beautiful and had an intriguing role that I thought would amount to more. I'm glad to see that she is still acting on a regular basis today.

Overall, it's a solid drama with complex characters who make you reflect about them long after you view this. I don't know why it took so long for me to finally see this movie, but I was impressed. (May I recommend the two-disc, special-edition DVD?). This movie is wonderfully directed, acted and photographed. I've only seen it once (last night) and I am not in love with the film (yet), but I am surprised it only garnered one Academy Award. I think it deserved more.
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So Disappointing
MM E18 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A terrible version of the book, in every single way. This movie DID NOT convey the beautiful literature, story-line or portray important and relevant characters of East of Eden.

Where's Sam Hamilton and Lee??? Sam Hamilton and Lee are wonderful and important characters in book, not even mentioned in the movie. As the film does not give the background of Kate/Cathy and her deviate ways. All the important facts and sentiment are totally amiss in this movie.

As I do not mind James Dean as Cal, as some do, he had nothing to do with the poorly written script. Cal would never ask Kate/Cathy for a loan for $5,000, Cal (in the book) received the loan from Lee.

I am so glad I finished the book, before seeing this movie. This movie is not a 1/4 of the book and a bad adaptation of it. This movie is a disappointment. If you are really interested in the story, take the time to read the Book East of Eden. Note for any Students trying to use this movie for a book report, don't, you will NOT receive a passing grade (all facts are wrong).
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Simply superb.
David Atfield5 January 2000
Elia Kazan deserved his recent honorary Oscar, no matter what political mistakes he may have made. He deserved it because he is one of the supreme artists of the cinema. His ability to draw superb performances from his actors, is coupled with an astonishing ability to depict these emotional states visually, through the use of camera angles, lighting and symbols. "East of Eden" must be seen in the widescreen format to truly appreciate its visual style. It is arresting, sometimes beautiful and always powerful.

Then there are the performances. James Dean's heartbreaking realization of Cal, consumed by jealousy; Jo Van Fleet's magnificent portrayal of his mother; Richard Davalos (why didn't we see more of him on the screen after this film?) innocent, virginal, doomed; Raymond Massey who has never been better in a multi-layered performance; Burl Ives' commanding police chief - and, as usual in a Kazan film, even the smallest part is played to perfection (who'll forget the girl in the brothel or the nurse at the end?). After seeing the film a few times I really appreciate the performance of Julie Harris too. I once thought her a little too mature for the role - but now I see how her reactions to the events really enhance the emotional impact of those events. Kazan allows her to be in frame during some of the most crucial encounters between Cal and his father - and her face tells a million stories. This is a true "supporting" performance - her performance helping Dean realize Cal. Brava Julie!

I'm a lot older now than when I first saw this film - but I still relate so strongly to the communication breakdown and the need for love between father and son. The improvement of my own relationship with my father makes me see the film differently but with no less emotion. Like all masterpieces this film does not date, we just see it differently as we age. This is undoubtedly one of my top five films. How about a theatrical revival? I have never seen it in a cinema. Remember see it in widescreen - not pan and scan.
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James Dean embodied the confused attitudes of a generation...
Nazi_Fighter_David16 February 2003
James Dean plays Cal, a son of Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) who feels unloved and unwanted by his stern father, a situation not helped by Adam's apparent acceptance of Cal's brother... Cal suspects that his mother, long believed dead, is the madame of a local brothel, and when this is confirmed, the young man is convinced that he has found the reason why he is bad...

His awkward, unhelpful attempts to find himself and come to terms with his situation led young audiences to identify with him immediately, an identification that was compounded by his role in 'Rebel Without a Cause' where again, only with more violence, he rebelled against his middle class family...

The impact he had made on the anxious, unhappy youth of that time was confirmed as much by his death as by the style and abandon of his life..

Dean was a youth who rebelled against the riches of the American Dream, though he finally denounced it all in a reckless moment... Dean therefore embodied the confused attitudes of a generation who had never suffered through the Depression and rejected the acquisitive attitudes of their parents, while at the same time they hankered after the American Dream... Dean gave physical form to the perplexing confusion of ideals, that haunted the majority of postwar American youth...
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Neediness of Love and Respect
Claudio Carvalho30 November 2014
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")
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There were some serious acting chops behind the legend...
Howlin Wolf25 September 2004
The early, violent death of someone so famous was a tragedy; but for someone who's never seen a Dean performance ("East of Eden" is his only movie I've seen to date; it has since been joined by "Rebel Without a Cause" as of Nov. 2007, and "Giant", in Jan. 2010) it's easy to get suckered by these details into believing that this is the only thing that adds substance to the man. Not so.

In "East of Eden" he delivers an intense performance as, unsurprisingly, an enigma; an individual too sensitive for life in his own world. It sounds from this as if it could well be similar territory to "Rebel Without a Cause", and given the events it's also perhaps not too far away from the real person - but nevertheless it's a striking portrayal that shows unmistakable 'fire' and talent.

James Dean is not one of those people who've come to be mythologised due to outside circumstances entirely beyond their control; for the consummate skill in his craft and the posthumous Oscar recognition brings something just as weighty to the table. About as far removed from the Orlando Bloom poster boy of his generation as it's possible to be, my expectations were completely trumped. There was real depth present, too.

All else is at least good, but it's the memory of a sobbing Cal all at once being transformed into a creature of hidden menace that I will take away with me. A riveting display from a fine actor, and undoubtedly a lasting testament to a lamentably short career. 9/10.
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Proving America Loves A Pretty Face
BandofInsiders18 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When the majority of people think back on the career of James Dean they tend to think of Rebel Without A Cause as Dean's masterpiece and for good reason. Dean's debut, East of Eden on the other hand is an extremely poor adaptation of a novel of the same name that was written by John Steinbeck. This is the film that put James Dean on the map and was the starting point of his rise as a cultural icon. While some may call this film a milestone, it comes off as a huge misstep for director Elia Kazan.

The film opens up at around ¾ of the way through the actual book and still manages to be a jumbled and uneven mess. Major characters from the book are cut out and in the process create giant plot holes. New characters are added such as Abra who changes the relationship between a lot of characters and adds different tones and themes to the film that Steinbeck originally never intended. Another problem the film suffers from is it's extremely uneven pacing, there is too much time wasted on things that never play into the actual arch of the film. Kazan seems like he tries to distract his audience rather than engage them.

Elia Kazan who has shown through his previous films that he is clearly a capable director and this is the fact that makes this film so disappointing. Kazan never seems truly grasp the underlying tones of Steinbeck's book and this translates to the screen. Instead of treating his material with care and insight he instead seems to constantly exploit Dean's "to cool for school" attitude to manipulate the audience into empathizing with a character because of his looks and not his motives. Kazan never exposes the core essence of his characters he lets characters tell you what their characters are thinking instead of letting them show what they are feeling, a major weakness from any director.

The films biggest weakness is that it never devotes enough time to character development. Characters constantly make decision's that seem out of place and unnatural. For instance when Aron becomes insane and leaves for war his fiancé Abra is totally indifferent to the entire situation. Yet her heart breaks for Cal when he is faced with the fact that he may have to live his life without the forgiveness of his father, even though he is the cause of Aron's leaving. It seems the more and more Cal destroys the lives of the people around him the more they take him in with open arms.

Aside from poor character development the film fails to give an adequate amount of back- story for certain characters. The dynamics of the relationship between Adam and his two sons is never really explored beyond face value. It is never explained how exactly Cal finds out that his mother is alive nor does the film explain the motives of the relationship between Cal and the person he starts his bean business with, who appears on screen a total of 3 times and than forgotten.

The film while generally disappointing and uninspired does have its moments from time to time. Jo Van Fleet who gives the best performance in the film won the award for best supporting actress at the 1956 Academy Awards. Van Fleet's film debut proved that she could hold her own even among larger that life actors such as James Dean. Another strong point of the film can be attributed to the film's art department who do a stellar job at recreating the Salinas Valley circa the early 1900's.

Cinematographer Ted McCord is the real heart of this film. McCord takes chances and they pay off. His use of lighting is more moody than most studio films of the 50's and he maintains a sense of movement even when the actor's blocking remains mostly static. McCord is responsible for developing characters that many of the unimpressive actor's in this film could not accomplish through acting. During one scene between Cal and his father McCord highlights their distorted relationship by using innovative camera tilts that gives the scene a real sense of drama that the acting lacked. The biggest tragedy resulting from this film is that Ted McCord didn't even get nominated for an Academy Award.

After all these years East of Eden seems aged and uninspired. James Dean proved that he was easy to watch on camera but didn't prove that he was an accomplished actor. Unfairly critically acclaimed and winner of one deserved Academy Award East of Eden really only ever accomplishes two things. It proves that people love "happy" endings even if they aren't really "happy" and that too many people are suckers for a pretty face. It is insane to think that Steinbeck "loved" this film upon seeing it.
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Notable for more than James Dean's first starring role
sme_no_densetsu4 October 2009
"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 his father.

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.
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"Man has a choice, and it's a choice that makes him a man"
ackstasis11 July 2009
Warning: 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.
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Elia Kazan and James Dean at their best
rontaube28 June 2005
I've seen this movie several times, most recently on DVD with an additional DVD that includes the premier and a documentary about James Dean. Each time I see this movie I see it from a new perspective. I learned from the DVD and from reading Elia Kazan's comments that the character Cal (played by Dean) is really Steinbeck in many ways in his youth and Kazan also identified with him. I learned that there was real friction between Dean and the man who played his father, Raymond Massey and that Dean deliberately provoked Massey to get angry with him to bring out the moment in the film of the father's feelings towards his son. I also marvel each time i see this movie at the outstanding performance of Jo Van Fleet. She deserved her best supporting actress academy award. This movie resonates on many levels as do most of Kazan's films. It is modern retelling of the garden of eden story and it is the story of the troubled youth of the fifties fighting against the conservatism of the Eisenhower years. It is a story of the confusion and conflicts in a family with a war approaching and it's a story about a woman (Van Fleet's character) who doesn't like being bottled up in a controlled religious setting. Many things to enjoy here and one wonders where the artists of Kazans stature are in this day and age. I only wish that all of Kazan's films were on DVD, such as Baby Doll and Wild River. I wonder if anyone but me notices that on the extra DVD where there is an interview with John Steinbeck that he shifts and contorts his mouth in a manner very like Dean in the movie. It was said that neither Steinbeck nor Kazan originally liked Dean but both agreed that he was perfect for the part and both identified with him very much.
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Sorry, I don't get it
donnieland14 May 2011
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!
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Spoiled Brat Whines and Skulks About
Paul-27120 June 2010
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.
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Although based on just a portion of Steinbeck's novel, film has more plot than it knows what to do with...
moonspinner5515 June 2009
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 ****
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Steinbeck's brilliant novel into a stunning film
Charles Reichenthal19 May 2004
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.
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Good vs. Evil in the American West
evanston_dad10 October 2005
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.

Grade: A
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East of Eden is the pit and the bowel of lost opportunities and expectations
Warning: 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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Dean, Steinbeck and California
artzau4 August 2001
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...
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Not Like I Remembered It
telegonus3 April 2001
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.
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John Steinbeck preferred the movie!
jjh651919 May 2000
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.
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Some what dull distillation of book
Movie Critic17 November 2013
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 puritanical father.

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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Read the book please! This version is junk!
jessica_608920 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
If you haven't read Steinbeck's book, than you would have to think that the 1955 version was terrible. The movie cuts into about the last 200 pages of a 600 page book and many events and characters have been cut out.

Where's Sam Hamilton? Where's Lee?? They are integral characters that shape the story! Some characters have been made up. i.e The bullied German character only had 2 words in the book, and he's been given 1/2 hour in the movie.

You watch the scene's between Cal and Cathy and we are given no history as to why Cathy is the way she is. There was no back story of Adam and Charlie, which is why Cal and Aron are so similar to their Dad and Uncle. Please read the book. You will learn so much that has been cut out!!!! This movie ignores the essence of the story.
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