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*** This review may contain 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
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.
Extraordinarily good version of the second half of the Steinbeck classic novel. Dean is riveting as the conflicted Cal with Julie Harris as Abra matching him every step of the way. Tautly directed by Kazan even in the quieter moments this pulls you right along. Burl Ives makes his few small scenes count and Raymond Massey is strong as the misguided and righteous father. The real standout in support is Jo Van Fleet in her Oscar winning role as the cruel Kate, she crafts a fully realized person in just a few short scenes. James Dean was fine in all three of his big screen films but this is his best performance. If you have the chance catch the Jane Seymour miniseries of the entire book, it has its faults but her performance as Cathy/Kate in it is sublime.
***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".
James Dean made only three films before his untimely death in 1955.
EAST OF EDEN is the only one I hadn't seen and the second of the three
to be shown on Reel 13. I was particularly curious about EAST OF EDEN
because it paired Dean with one of his Actors' Studio mentors
director Elia Kazan. Kazan introduced the more naturalistic "method"
acting style to Hollywood with films like A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and
ON THE WATERFRONT. The impact of the collaboration is most apparent in
that Dean, for the only time in his brief career, seems to be
surrounded by actors with a similar background and training. In the
review of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, I noted how it often seemed that Dean
was acting in his own movie, but here, he is amongst peers in Julie
Harris, Burl Ives, Lois Smith and Jo Van Fleet, who won an Oscar for
her supporting performance (I am usually against giving Oscars to
people for less than ten minutes of screen time, but I might have to
make an exception here she was brilliant).
Oddly enough, with all the familiar and talented thespians around him, Dean's presence is less effective than it was in his other work. Don't get me wrong he displays several moments of greatness (great body language throughout, outstanding choices in the Ferris wheel scene), but as blasphemous as it might be to say, there were a few moments where I felt he went too far. He is constantly whining to such an extreme degree, that it diffuses the moments that really call for it. Now, this isn't overacting in the traditional sense. As a matter of fact, I feel similarly about this performance as I did about the recent performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. It's more scenery chewing than overacting. Both actors are believable when they hit those extreme emotions, but I wonder if the choice to go that far is always appropriate. While it's impressive that they can get there, they might be actually be harming the overall narrative. The more often they cry or scream, the less impact it will have as the film goes on. This is problematic because, more often than not, the end of a film requires the broader emotions more than the beginning. For example, there is a scene toward the end of EAST OF EDEN where Dean's character presents his father with a gift that he worked his ass off for, but the righteous father manages to find the negativity in it. Dean cries and convulses in full breakdown mode, almost as if he didn't have control of his motor skills. This had the potential to be very powerful if we hadn't seen it four times earlier. To be fair, this was Dean's first film and he clearly went on to refine his craft in his next efforts.
Elia Kazan also seemed a little off his game. This film, which was possibly his most ambitious in terms of scope and budget seems more like an experiment to him than anything else. I got the sense that he was almost playing with ideas and concepts. He employs these very interesting Dutch angles throughout, but very often, they don't seem to be motivated. There is an early Q&A scene between Dean and Raymond Massey. As the scene goes on, the angle becomes more off-axis, but the scene occurs too early to utilize a technique that extreme. (There is a scene later on the film when Dean is on a swing where Kazan justifies the awkward angle by using the forward movement of the swing to essentially "push" the camera off-axis. This works much better). Other experiments were more successful. First, this might have been the first time he shot in color and the results are astounding. The cinematography is beautiful and the colors are extraordinarily rich. Second, he is a master of staging and not in the theatrical sense. This is very much blocking for the camera frame. The best example is the scene that takes place immediately after the scene where Dean presents the gift. Dean pouts in the backyard under a huge tree. Its leaves hang so low that they obscure the entire top half of Dean. Julie Harris runs under the tree to console him so she is also hidden. (This idea of obscuring characters/moments from the camera occurs often in the Kazan oeuvre). From their legs and torso, you can tell they stand close, but is he crying on her shoulder? Are they making out? Then, Dean's brother comes out and orders Harris (his girlfriend) out from the tree. She runs out and into the foreground. The brother is in the middleground with his back to the camera and Dean is in the background, still obscured by the tree. The brother then begins to admonish Dean's character, but it's Harris' face we see as if the brother could be referring to either one of them. It's a beautiful, simple and truly cinematic framing idea that manages to convey a multitude of ideas with one swift stroke.
As you may have interpreted, I have mixed feelings about EAST OF EDEN. While the artistic achievements of the film are exciting, the film ultimately fails to pack an emotional punch, possibly because the narrative is mired in the complexities and the allegories of the Steinbeck novel it's based on. Familial relations, foreign politics, xenophobia, profiteering, infidelity, class distinctions, the nature of evil and of course, the albatross hanging over the whole thing Biblical allegory are all covered within the 110 minutes of EAST OF EDEN. While I think it's great that Kazan tried to layer the film with all that meaning, I wonder if he didn't push it too far. With all those deep issues crammed into one package, it's hard to care about any of them.
Kazan's version of East of Eden captures the mood and main points of the
Steinbeck novel very well. Sure, its a bit annoying that main characters
from the book (Sam Hamilton, Lee...) were not a part of the film. For a
hour movie, it did manage to cram a lot in and even stands as its own
(it would not be a requirement for the viewer to have read the book --
though I think it made it better for me knowing the backstory.
Highs--- (1) The climax scenes (those between Cal and his father, and Cal and Aron) were pulled off incredibly -- really effective and moving. (2) Jo Van Fleet's performance as Kate was great -- she was just the type of snake I imagined from the book. (3) James Dean's Cal was at times excellent -- His portrayal was a good mixture of Steinbeck's character and the typical James Dean character fans of his would like to see.
Lows---- (1) The video quality is awful. The movie was shot by Kazan in cinemascope (really wide) and doesn't translate well to small screen non-letterboxed. It makes it real hard to tell what kind of job Kazan did visually as a director -- not to mention there was text cut-off in some scenes, and a lot of scenery missing (an important part to Steinbeck anything). (2) Julie Harris hams it up a bit as Abra, but I guess that's normal for old movies (when most actors were trained for stage).
Overall: (1) Captures emotion of the Steinbeck novel (2) Entertaining story that most people could keep interest in for two hours (3) Worth the 2 bucks it'll cost to rent for 5 days... and will be worth 20 bucks to own on DVD in widescreen.
Score: 4 out of 5 popcorn buckets...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Only the last half or perhaps the last third of Steinbeck's classic novel was used in the making of this feature film, but it turns out to be enough. Massey plays the stern, but gentle, father of two sons (Davalos and Dean) whose mother was such a monster that he has raised them to believe she's dead. Dean, however, has managed to find out that not only is she alive, but she lives in a neighboring town as a rather infamous madam! His already dysfunctional relationship with his father is further strained when he realizes that Massey has lied about this. The fact that Davalos is held up as a paragon of virtue and has an appealing sweetheart (Harris) only adds to Dean's neuroses and insecurity. However, he decides to win over his father once and for all by making back a substantial amount of money that was lost in an ill-executed business venture. When that also doesn't turn out the way he planned, he falls apart before his father and lashes out at his brother, with disastrous results. Reams have been printed about the meteoric rise of Dean and his devastating demise after just three major film roles. It's hard to believe that anyone can live up to the hype after the iconic stature his face and career have been given over the decades. However, in this, his virtual film debut, he is stunning. Odd, unsettling, gentle, fierce, impish, vulnerable, volatile and tender are just a few of the words that describe him in this film. His revolutionary approach to the script may have upset the more traditional performers in the film (namely Massey), but they are better themselves because of it. His visceral and authentic portrayal jumps off the screen today and must have been amazing to behold in 1955. Massey is also very strong and well-suited to his role. The two create dramatic fireworks together (some might even say waterworks if they buy into the sentimentality of the material.) Harris, who gets top-billing though the story really isn't hers, per se, is excellent as well. Even though she's the tiniest bit too old for her role, she invests it with so much heart and talent, it's hard to top. Unlike Massey, she responded well to Dean's Method shenanigans and even gave him a bit of his own medicine in a scene involving tapping him in the face with a fresh cut wildflower. Ives, soon to give the world several terrific performances in films like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "The Big Country" lends solid support as a sort of mentor of Dean's. Van Fleet, an Oscar-winner as Dean's mother, creates an air of mystery about her and is believable in her tough role. (This part would later yield Jane Seymour one of her very best roles ever in the 1981 TV mini-series version.) Davalos is attractive and strong as the brother who is perceived to be full of sweetness and light, but contains a darker side himself. Inexplicably, he, of almost anyone associated with the film, seems to have benefited the least, with very few important parts in his future. Other supporting roles are turned in by Smith, as a fearful, low-esteemed bar girl and Dekker as Dean's entrepreneurial partner. Dekker (who had one of Hollywood's all-time bizarre deaths, being found hanging naked with vulgarities written all over his body) has a surprisingly bare shower scene in which he tells Dean not to get too close too him because he's hot enough already! The film is chock full of atmospheric and clever directorial touches including blocking off parts of the screen to reveal only what is necessary and staging one scene so that only the actors' legs can be seen beneath a weeping willow tree. It's a beautiful, well-crafted story with pertinent relationship examinations that still hold up today. Alienation of youth is something that transcends the decades, thus allowing new generations to experience the feelings that Dean's character felt. This is one time the subject lives up to the hype.
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 ***
This is one of the many examples where the book is infinitely better
than the movie. The director strayed way too far from the book. She
left out so much of the plot and character development, if I hadn't
read the book I would not understand what was going on.
Let's start with the way the characters were interpreted. Cal seems like he has a bolt loose rather than him being evil which I found hard to digest. Aron is played very well and appears to be innocent like he should be up until the end where he goes crazy and smashes the window with his head which never happened in the book by the way. My favorite character in the book who I believe to be the most in depth and complex, Lee, wasn't even in there! In the novel Kate always looked young and beautiful and had a large scar on her forehead which was key to the allegorical parallelism in the book, however in the movie she had no scar and was very wrinkled.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in this movie is in the last scene where Adam is dying and he doesn't say the word "Timshel". The entire book leads up to this moment and is the overall message Steinbeck tries to convey and it's not in the movie. The good thing about this movie though, are the dramatic fight scenes were performed in such a way that it sounds like a joke so you can't help but laugh. I really don't like how the director interpreted the novel, maybe if I didn't read East Of Eden before hand, I might have actually liked the movie. so my advice is; if you've read the novel, don't watch the movie, it will most definitely ruin your day.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Quite apart from being Elia Kazan's best movie and James Dean's best
movie, one can argue that *East of Eden* may very well be Old
Hollywood's best movie. It stands as one of the rare examples of the
seemingly infinite resources of the old studio system being put to
intelligent, sensible, artistic uses, and it's a compelling blend, or
dividing-line, of (or between) traditional story-telling and acting
styles with the more modern, "realistic", Actors-Studio approach (a
contrast best exemplified by the presence of Dean and the old-fashioned
Raymond Massey, endlessly quarreling on- and off-screen). The film has
finally been released on DVD by Warner Bros., with correct, anamorphic
aspect ratio and a boat-load of extras that include instructive
outtakes and screen-tests along with some pretty intelligent commentary
by Richard Schickel. It's an excellent release, actually worth the 7 or
8 years' wait.
The main advantage, however, of the new DVD is that we can appreciate Kazan's intelligent tackling of the problems posed by the massive CinemaScope frame. Kazan is mostly known as an "actor's director", prone to chamber-like compositions and sweaty close-ups, so it's all the more surprising that he handles the epic vistas of John Steinbeck's California with such confidence. The interior shots are even more impressive: Kazan skews the camera during certain tense, emotional scenes, giving the frame a queasy, slatternly look; he utilizes deep-focus almost constantly, stuffing the screen with innumerable details . . . and yet he also isn't afraid to use the wide-frame in a counter-intuitive, minimalist way, e.g. that long, dark corridor leading to Jo Van Fleet's bedroom -- the entire screen is dark except for a sliver of light in the center of the frame inhabited by the silhouetted actors. One of my favorite compositions is during the scene when Massey is forcing Dean to read from the Bible at the kitchen table: they sit at opposite ends of the table, inhabiting space at the extreme edges of the screen, an insuperable gulf dividing them. Kazan's visual motifs are always in service to the emotional and thematic demands of the story.
As for the adaptation itself, Kazan focuses on the last portion of Steinbeck's sprawling book -- the only reasonable option available, really. The director takes Steinbeck's rather obvious and gaudy theme, the Cain-and-Abel story, at face-value, relying on the actors to carry it all across. Luckily for him and us, they do. Goaded by Dean, Raymond Massey delivers the best performance of his career as the stern, Biblical patriarch Adam. Goaded by Dean, Richard Davalos delivers perhaps the only noteworthy performance of his career as the goody-two-shoes brother Aron. Goaded and seduced by Dean, Julie Harris succumbs to his unique qualities, which, since the Fifties, have proved to be catnip to young women everywhere: the vulnerability; the wild recklessness; the feminine softness; the promise of exciting violence; the brooding nihilism; the twinkling-eyed sense of humor. She can't decide whether to be his mother or his lover -- either way, Cain-like Cal wins.
Indeed, James Dean wins. It seems grandiose to suggest that between his work here and in *Rebel without a Cause* the actor invented not just the modern portrayal of adolescence but modern adolescence itself. Sometimes, however, the grandiose also happens to be true. Watching Dean's performance in *East of Eden*, one senses the establishing introduction of what was to become an enduring pattern: the messy inner life of the American teenager. This would be achievement enough to ensure this movie's place in the pantheon of all-time greats . . . and in this context, the movie's many other virtues are just gravy.
10 stars out of 10.
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