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|Index||173 reviews in total|
Today, it seems quite amazing that an actor could only appear in three
films and still have such a profound impact on acting over fifty years
later. James Dean, in his first major role in a major picture, sweeps
you into his world as the wild, mysterious and moody Cal Trask, a young
man who is hopelessly trying to gain his father's love and affection
despite the fact he only seems to care for his brother, Aron. In terms
of style, Dean may seem a bit melodramatic and even to the point of
hysteria in some scenes. Nevertheless, he is able to get completely
under the skin of this torn and complex character so richly provided by
John Steinbeck, whose novel was the basis for this film. It is rather
incredible to watch Dean literally throw himself into the role, keeping
you on your toes wondering what he could possibly do next.
As for the supporting cast, it is a good one with Julie Harris absolutely shimmering as Arba, the girl of Cal and Aron's affections, as well as Raymond Massey playing a most unlikable father figure. Jo Van Fleet also gives a rather unique performance that got her and Oscar and will definitely stick with you. At the head of all this talent and stardom is Elia Kazan, the great American director fresh off an Oscar win for On the Waterfront. Here, he attacks Steinbeck's controversial material and creates a moving and startling portrayal of people in a period that was just beginning to creep into modern and the turmoil and sadness that can break a dysfunctional family even further down.
It really is a shame Dean was subjected to such an early death. His talent was monstrous and his potential endless. Even so, this and his other two role show him as the inspiring and incredible young actor he was, forever immortalized in our minds as the symbol of a man searching for what will complete him and his journey to find peace and truth.
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 movie simplifies the book down to a plot of a troubled "teen"
(James Dean a bit too old at 24) trying to win approval from an overly
This boiled down story from Steinbeck's book is not particularly lame by Hollywood standards and stands on its own. Dean is decent in the role...Kate is simply a hard hooker not the demonic character in the book who burns her parents alive.
However it disappoints because the book has such interesting characters like Kate and Lee. All the movie offers is some sort of dull coming of age thing.
But how can a movie possibly cover a long novel?---it can't in fact when movies try to cover books too fully the result is always bad---with rapid untethered jarring snippets of dialogue and action from the book which if covered fully would take 50 hours of screen time.
The German who is barely covered in the book gets much too big a role in this movie in some sort of Hollywood PC moral lesson...other than that I guess the biggest complaint is it is all rather boring.
In the end Caleb wins his Dad's love when his Dad asks him to take the place of the nurse. Yawn...
Do Not Recommend
*** 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.
Elia Kazan is the most accomplished actors director Cinema has ever
known, and East of Eden is possibly the best example of that fact. Not
only it is the most beautifully crafted description of a (young) man's
inner struggle at his own constant longing for his father's love, but
also a character study ideally rendered through the unique performance
of its lead actor. Previously, James Dean had just made some theater
and television stuff that had already gotten him a fair amount of
recognition, mainly due to his signature neurotic style. Dean was a
hard-core Brando fan, which puts in perspective the apotheosis of
Stanislavskian acting East of Eden represents. Kazan knew who he was
dealing with: an Actors Studio dropout with a cause.
His obvious artistry in communicating an issue as personal as any from the Cinemascope canvas (still during its early years) is astonishing. Such an inventive use of the frame in scenes like the opening of the film, the lettuce train scene and the birthday party scene, certainly would have been out of reach for any man just a bit less adequate to the medium. And his use of music -- a poignant work by Leonard Rosenman, who following East of Eden would score the Kazanesque Rebel Without a Cause in 1955 -- is superb as always, matching the heights he had already arrived at himself in On the Waterfront (1954) and Viva Zapata! (1952).
*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
East of Eden is a film that was loosely based on the second half of the
novel of the same name by John Steinbeck. It is about a wayward young
man who, while seeking his own identity, vies for the affection of his
deeply religious father against his favored brother, thus retelling the
story of Cain and Abel.The film stars James Dean,in his first screen
debut,Julia Harris,and Raymond Massey together with Burl Ives, Richard
Davalos and Jo Van Fleet. It was directed by Elia Kazan.
This is a short screen version of John Steinbeck's best-seller.It was about Cal Trask, the "bad" son of taciturn Salinas valley lettuce farmer Adam Trask. Although he means well, Cal can't stay out of trouble, nor is he able to match the esteem in which his father holds his "good" brother Aron.Only Aron's girlfriend Abra and kindly old sheriff Sam Burl Ives) can see the essential goodness in the troublesome Cal. When Adam invests in a chancy and wholly unsuccessful method of shipping his crops east, his wealth plummets. In an effort to save the business, Cal obtains money from his estranged mother,who also happens to be the proprietor of a whorehouse and invests it in a risky new bean crop.
The gamble pays off,but Adam refuses to take the money from Cal, and the resultant quarrel causes Adam to have a stroke. Cal tries to talk to him, but gets no response and leaves the bedroom. Abra enters the room alone and pleads with Adam to show Cal some affection before it is too late. She persuades Cal to go back into the room. When Cal makes his last bid for acceptance before leaving town, his father manages to speak. He tells his son to get rid of the annoying nurse and not to get anyone else, but to stay and take care of him himself. The film ends with Cal and Abra sitting by Adam's bedside, the emotional chasm between the father and son apparently closed.
East of Eden is one great movie.It was a Kazan's Biblical allegory from the Book of Genesis set in modern times.It was one of the best films he has ever made.The story was rich in emotion.The cinematography was classic as well.Aside from his superb direction,it was also the first significant role of James Dean,whom I believe had his best performance in this movie as compared to Giant and Rebel Without A Cause and has shown promise that he could have been one of the best actors(if not the best) in history if he not only died early of a car accident.In summary it was one excellent and classic film that was elevated by Dean's enormous talent.
This is the only major movie James Dean lived to see in which he had
acted--too bad he didn't show up to the premier. Within months of the
debut he'd be dead--and never see the success he'd attain in "Giant" or
"Rebel Without a Cause".
Dean is THE star of this film--a troubled young man who just assumes he's 'bad'. The reason for it, he discovers, might be because his dead mother is NOT dead but alive--alive and working in a brothel! This is a huge contrast to his father and 'good' brother and pious father. The father (Raymond Massey) doesn't understand Dean and there is a huge gulf between them. Some of it clearly is because the father is filled with self-righteousness--a self-righteousness that makes it hard to connect with mere mortals. Oddly, although he's seen as the bad boy, Dean tries again and again to do right and make his father proud--in many ways he really is the good son because he tries so very hard to gain his father's approval. How can all this get sorted out and what about the relationship between the two amazingly different brothers? Tune in to this excellent film--which is, believe it or not, a highly unusual reworking of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel--and Steinbeck seems to strongly favor the under-dog, Cain! Excellent acting, a nice script and a sense that this is something different from Hollywood all make this a film you won't want to miss.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Does "East of Eden" do what a great film should do, namely, make the
viewer lose himself in it? Well, no, not often enough. It exudes style
but lacks the enchantment of good storytelling.
Regarding James Dean, his pretty boy looks and premature death behind the wheel of his Porsche elevated him to godlike status; however, how someone with the demeanor of a three-year-old in the back seat of a '54 Nash (without air conditioning) during a long trip on a hot summer day rose so high puzzles; nonetheless, he ranks as the big draw for most people.
It is Julie Harris, commanding and deserving top billing, who puts in a great performance. The camera gravitates toward her, and she owns her character, Abra. Harris' talent dwarfs Dean's. She emotes with her eyes whereas Dean must bang on all the pots and pans to express himself.
As to other issues, the sound track annoys to no end (as does the one in "On The Waterfront"). Kazan lacked subtly in this regard, often allowing the volume and musical selection to overwhelm the scene. Scene continuity deserved more careful editing, too.
"East of Eden" delivers Kazan, but it shouts rather than whispers the Steinbeck story.
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