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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having read the book and knowing the movie dwelled on the rivalry
between Cal and Aron, I was still very disappointed to find out that
Elia Kazan had chosen to edit out one of the most congenial character
in Steinbeck's novel (not to mention Samuel Hamilton), Lee. What I
found even more dismaying was that John Steinbeck apparently approved
of Kazan's cinematographic adaptation. (Please, correct me if I am
If you were captivated by Lee's interpretation of the Cain and Abel story, and how it plays out in the story (the last word uttered by Adam Trask is Timshel: Thou mayest), then you'll certainly find this movie to be wanting; I don't think James Dean's performance can redeem this major flaw.
*** 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.
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.
*** 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 ***
John Steinbeck's novel, East of Eden, has been hailed as a literary
masterpiece, even earning a Nobel Prize in literature. Filmmaker Elia
Kazan directed the film adaptation of East of Eden. The film stars
James Dean as Caleb Trask, Richard Davalos as Aron Trask, Raymond
Massey as Adam Trask, and Julie Harris as Abra. The film was also
hailed as great, and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, of which it
won one for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. I, however, disagree
with The Academy's opinion of the movie. While James Dean portrayed Cal
Trask very well, the movie changed the theme of the book and left out
two very significant characters.
Caleb Trask, or Cal as he's referred to in the book, is a very emotionally complex character. He is the representation of Cain in the youngest generation of the Trask family. But unlike Adam's brother Charles, Cal actually wants to be good and fights the his inner darkness for the entirety of his story arc. Therefore, to portray Cal accurately an actor must be able to show the inner turmoil of emotions that Cal feels whenever he feels himself slipping over to the dark side. Jimmy Dean captures this mentality amazingly. In several scenes you can actually see him squirm and struggle with his emotions over Aron, Abra, and his father. In one particularly heart wrenching scene, after Adam rejects Cal's gift, Dean, improvising outside of the script, slowly crawls over to Massey and embraces him in a bear hug, crying and sobbing loudly. Adam then pushes Cal away, only increasing the audience's sympathy for Cal. In my opinion, this scene was the highlight of Dean's acting in the entire movie, and except for a few glaring examples, Dean is able to portray this same level of dedication to his character for most of the movie. It's no wonder he was nominated for an Academy Award for this role. However, Dean's acting can't save this movie.
The novel dealt with many themes, foremost among them the theme of Timshel, or free will. There are several conversations about Timshel throughout the book, usually between Lee, Samuel, or Adam, and in the ending scene of the book, when Cal is begging his father for forgiveness, Adam's last word is Timshel. Thus, the biblical allusion to the story of Cain and Abel is completed, and the theme of free will is brought to the forefront. In the movie, the same scene is treated radically different. Instead of saying Timshel, Adam tells Cal to get rid of the nurse and asks Cal to take care of him himself. The message of the movie is redemption, and the last scene lets the audience know that Cal has finally redeemed himself to his father and finally won his acceptance and love. This theme of redemption is a polar opposite to the theme of the book. The novel's grandest message is that everyone has to choose to be good or bad, and you aren't born bad or predestined to be good. Using the Cain and Abel parable, Steinbeck even goes so far as to say that God won't guarantee that Cain, and therefore humanity, will overcome sin, but that it's up to Cain to choose to overcome sin himself. This theme of free will cannot coexist with the theme of redemption or seeking love and acceptance, because seeking redemption puts your fate in someone's else's hands, not your own. Cain sought redemption from God, and God told him that it was up to him to make the right choices. The movie radically changed the moral of the story, which alienated most people who read the book, including myself.
Lastly, the movie adaptation skipped the majority of the book. Now, it's well known that a movie can't capture every detail in a book, and I even enjoy it when movies take some artistic liberties with their source material. However, when the movie leaves out two of the most significant characters in the book, I think it loses something in the process. Specifically, the movie left out Samuel Hamilton and Lee. For the most part, Steinbeck uses Samuel, an Irish immigrant, and Lee, a Chinese servant for the Trask family, to explore American racism and to discuss the philosophical ideas raised in the book. Additionally, Samuel and Lee are often integral parts of the story. They are the two people who pull Adam out of his stupor after Cathy leaves him, and Samuel is the one who thinks of Aron and Cal's names. After Samuel dies, Lee becomes the moral, intellectual, and philosophical backbone of the entire Trask family and the book as a whole. It's Lee who actually discovers Timshel, after studying the original Hebrew of the Bible, and brings it to the attention of Samuel, Adam, and, later, Cal. Without Samuel and Lee, East of Eden falls apart as a story. To prevent this, the movie fused Abra and Lee's characters into one hybrid character, but in doing so lost most of the philosophy of Lee and a good deal of Abra's character development as well.
While the movie version of East of Eden has some strong points, it ultimately pales in comparison to the book. The movie tries to change too much and loses the intellectual and philosophical ideas that won the book its Nobel Prize. While I didn't expect the movie to show all parts of the book, I cannot support such a drastic rewrite of a classic novel. East of Eden was the single loosest movie adaptation of a book I've seen since The Lightning Thief, and I can't help but come away disappointed after watching this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is very complex. Steinback was a brilliant man and had some
very deep, thought provoking books. East of Eden, the film, with James
Dean is amazing. It's pretty much a kind of Cain and Abel tale where
we, the viewer, are trying to understand in some way, where Cain is
coming from, and that's just some of what East of Eden is about.
James Dean makes his character, Cal, unpredictable and amazing in all aspects. Dean's performance is up there with Brando's best and diverse performances. To think what Dean may have done, he would have been around as an actor until he was an old man, but unfortunately, it didn't go that way.
That's what makes Dean's death so great and at the same time so tragic, that all of the Film Historians and film buff's know that he may have been the greatest actor of all time, it's tough to say if he was better than Brando or other greats because he only did 3 solid movies and that was it.
But I think it's safe to make an educated guess from what I did see from Dean, that he was a better actor than Brando, and Brando was amazing. Dean could have written his own ticket for the rest of his life in the film industry and the irony is, he did write his own ticket, just not in the way that he or we had hoped for. East of Eden is the movie that shows he's got the goods, all 3 of his movies show that in some kind of way. Furthermore, the character I feel for the most in East of Eden is the Older brother of Dean's character in the movie. It's cold what Cal does to his older brother, but really if you look at it, it's pretty messed up what happens to all of the characters in the movie.
East of Eden is a great movie and a movie that will mess with your head. If you want to see what James Dean was all about, this is the movie right here that will show you everything about him.
The James Dean canon is short on ammunition because of his early demise. There is no question that he dominates every scene he is in. What a loss! The movie itself is a little bit too much to swallow, especially the conclusion. When one is dealing with a slice of life and real human relationships, things seldom get tied up in such taut packages. That stated, the characters are interesting, but, even at the end, I'm not sure why the father was such a bastard. He was so short sighted he could only see the one son. Cal (Cain) really works hard and puts in his time. While he becomes a bit profligate and free spirited, I could never understand why his father hated him so much. The relationship with his mother is also pretty strange; she's just over the hill, a little ways away. What's her real story? I also had trouble with the Julie Harris character at times. Her delivery is really stagy. It doesn't sound natural. Yes, I know she is a great stage actress. This would even be OK if this were a play, but it is an adaptation of a novel. In the end, it's engrossing and we care about Cal. He's the life of the town.
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.
Though not without contrived moments, East of Eden is an incredibly
emotional film. A powerful story of a family in conflict in the Cain and
James Dean is wonderful as Cal Trask, the "bad son". I wondered why everyone in town sees him in this light as he tries so hard to do right, but is pidgeonholed into the Cain role. The fact that the film contained almost autobiographal elements from Dean's own life gives the film extra poignance.
Raymond Massey is fine as Adam Trask. An outwardly likeable and respected man, Adam Trask has a curious insensitive and self-righteous streek in personality. Adam is able to lecture Cal on his misdeeds, but sees nothing wrong in lying to his son about his mother.
Julie Harris is touching as Abra, Cal's brother's fiancee. A sweet local girl, she tries in vain to act as an emotional bandaid to the Trask family, but ends up being more the catalyst that tears them apart.
The film was obviously a personal one for director Kazan(who had problems with his own father and was ostrasized for his HUAC testimony). You can feel the tension in his characters just beneath the surface. Abra's forgiveness plea to Adam after Cal's atrocious act could well be taken from Kazan's own life. The film's blazing colour and beautiful Leonard Rosenman score adds to the emotional charge.
Keep plenty of kleenex handy for the birthday sequence through to the end of the film.
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