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"And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land
of Nod, on the east of Eden." (Genesis 4:16)
East of Eden is, for the most part, the biblical story of Cain and Abel, retold for the 20th Century. James Dean plays Cal Trask, a young, rebellious kid who resents his distant, uptight father( Raymond Massey). He's always kept Cal at arms length and disapproved of his every move. Aron (Richard Davalos), on the other hand is the prefect, if a bit vapid, son. Cal learns that his Mother, whom his father has told them was long dead is in fact the Madame of a nearby town. It's also implied that she's a junkie. When Cal pursues some kind of a connection with her, or a relationship of some kind, much disruption and drama ensues.
Photographed in Cinemascope by Ted McCord (The Sound Of Music, The Sand Pebbles), the film is, I think, an amazing thing to watch. Elia Kazan used extensive locations in and around Monterey and Salinas. The Cinemascope frame is used to amazing advantage, with beautiful central coast landscapes captured stunningly. There is an early scene where Dean rides on top of a railroad car at 55 mph. This is no process shot. They actually put Dean up there and let the train speed along, with a camera mounted on the top of the boxcar. I thought that was an amazing shot, and wildly daring. Dean was an unknown at this time, as was Julie Harris. Still, it was an amazing risk to take. Just one of many interesting shots in this film.
Also used brilliantly is the wide screen potential in interior, intimate scenes. Shot composition is so dynamic. They just don't seem to take the care these days to light and compose images like they did when the medium was still relatively fresh. We've really lost something, I'm afraid. It seems to me that the art of the motion picture is taken for granted or, in the worst cases, never even considered. James Dean was truly amazing, He really was. The veneration and hype of Dean's persona and legend is justified, in my opinion. He had a quality about him that was totally, utterly fresh and new. He approached acting from the weirdest place. Part method, part psychotic, but totally offbeat. Utterly offbeat.If you've never actually seen James Dean act, you'll be really surprised. You'll also understand why he astounded the staid, unsophisticated audiences of 1955. My god, but he must've been a total bolt from the blue. Then he was just dead. Gone. Wiped out. This film was just a few weeks in release, the audience was just turning on to this discovery. "Rebel Without a Cause" was in post production, and Dean was finishing shooting "Giant" when he was instantly killed in a high speed crash on a lonely highway in central California. He was on his way in his Porsche Spyder to a race in Paso Robles when he was creamed.
He'd been famous for about 6 weeks only.
Elia Kazan thinks James Dean was too eccentric to have lasted long. He believes his fame would've been transitory. Perhaps Kazan is right. We'll never know. I think he would have endured, and branched out as a writer. He would've lasted somehow. He never had the chance to grow.
Watching "East of Eden" it is clear that James Dean was soon to be a star. His performance is just so believable and gut wrenching in this film and although he never lived in my lifetime but its clear watching him that a lot of actors today, most notably Brad Pitt was heavily influenced by his films because they're so similar in many respects - and if Brad Pitt wasn't, then the resemblance is uncanny This film is powerful, it's emotional and everything you want out of a drama and again there is James Dean who delivers such a raw, bold and painful performance, he really drags us in to his plight. While many have said it, I'm inclined to agree. He really was that good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An amazing film which I rank as my single all-time favorite, 'East Of
Eden' contains James Dean's best screen performance. He is
heart-wrenching as Cal Trask, the wayward, misunderstood son vying for
his father's love with his favored twin brother.
This is an adaptation of Steinbeck's much-lauded novel. It is hard to say whether it is an improvement or blot on it's original subject matter, because the adaptation is so loose. Only really the last 80 or so pages of Steinbeck's epic novel remain in the film, but it is the last 80 pages that most readers are interested in-the father-son, brother-brother conflict.
Steinbeck lifted part of his saga from the biblical Cain and Abel story. Cain in 'East Of Eden' becomes Cal Trask, the son who just can't do anything to please his stern, Puritan father, 'Adam' Trask. Abel becomes Aron (played by Richard Davalos), the son who is perfect in his father's eyes. The story is set in the Salinas Valley of California following the outbreak of World War 1, but the real focus in the film is not on the political climate of the time (which is alluded to and addressed sparingly). Instead, the tension between Cal and his father and Cal's competition with Aron for his father's love form the heart of 'East Of Eden'.
From our first glimpse of Dean he exudes the rebel image that audiences primarily associate with him. He is following the woman who he has found out to be his 'dead' mother, Cathy. She is the mistress of a whorehouse in Monterey, and her disappearance from Cal's life at such an early age is a major factor contributing to his tortured emotional state. Dean cannot connect with his father and feels like an outsider in the family. He finds some salvation in a promising business prospect, in which he hopes to please his father by earning back the money Adam has lost on a venture in the lettuce business. Aron's girl Abra (Julie Harris, in an excellent performance)feels a connection with the unruly, reaching Cal that she just can't explain. They are drawn to each other through mutual feelings of rejection and inadequacy, and Abra's good nature could be the thing that helps Cal overcome his difficult relationship with his father and uncertain sense of self.
Dean is a powerhouse in his debut leading role. Dean's major strength was his ability to emote to the camera, and he does it so well here. Watching Cal's torment is watching an extension of Dean's own conflicted self. It is said he didn't act Cal Trask, he WAS Cal Trask, and I find this difficult to disagree with. Kazan chose him not because of an overly impressive technique, but because his rawness and anger so perfectly suited the role. One of the best male performances ever committed to screen.
Julie Harris is also excellent as Abra. One of the complaints about Harris in the role I've often heard is how old she looks compared to Dean (28 to 23), and that she is too plain to be a leading lady. In my opinion, Harris looks fine next to Dean and her girl-next-door quality equips the role of Abra very well. Abra is a mother figure, caring but no glamorous. I feel that Julie Harris is just what Steinbeck intended in the role. Her love scenes with Dean are poignant and tenderly beautiful, they have terrific chemistry.
Fantastic support is provided by Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Burl Ives and to a lesser extent, Davalos. Massey, with his Classical acting style, was constantly at odds with Method actor Dean throughout filming. Kazan encouraged this animosity, as it he felt it added to the picture. It certainly worked, as we can feel the mutual anger and hurt the two direct at each other. Jo Van Fleet (she won the supporting actress Oscar for her role) plays Cathy, the mother of the twins and Adam's long-lost wife. She is suitably hard, yet they made her much nicer in the film (Read the book and you'll see what a monster she really is). Davalos is adequate in his role, but Dean's force and presence tower over him in every scene they share.
I'm not going to give away too much, as 'East Of Eden' is such a powerful film that it deserves to be viewed objectively, but I must say this film provides some of the most emotionally shattering scenes ever put to film. Cal's desperate plea for his father's love at a birthday party for Adam towards the end of the film is a monument to Dean's ability as an actor, and the ending seldom fails to leave me in tears.
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.
There is no doubt that "East of Eden" was James' Dean's hardest acting role, and that he came through it extremely impressively. The somewhat harrowing story of two brothers desperate for their father's love and support makes it a strikingly emotional experience, and can be considered, even today, as relative. The very strong performances by Raymond Massey (who truly was one of Filmdom's best when given a chance) and Burl Ives added so very much to the passion and pathos of this movie. Richard Davalos as the brother to Cal (Dean) played his role with a great deal of feeling, and makes one wonder why his career never really went further. The Academy Award going to Jo Van Fleet did surprise me a bit, as it was really only a small appearance, but she was excellent in it. It could never be classed as a happy film, but a true experience. I though Julie Harris in a pivotal role underplayed it perfectly.
I am a lover of classic movies. I'm in my 20s, but I've been watching
them since I was little. I try not to fall for the "hype" of many of
the classics (i.e. Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, East of Eden)
until I've seen them for myself. Not that my opinion changes their
status, but I think a lot of movies have a reputation and too many
people are afraid to go against the grain of popular belief.
Anyways, this movie was on TCM this week and I finally got a chance to watch it. I've never read the book, so imagine my surprise when through the reviews and messageboard here, that this movie was only the last portion of the book. That probably explains why nothing in it made me sympathize with the characters. I thought the Cain/Abel theme might be intriguing, but frankly, this was a very boring and overdone movie. I have never understood the hype of James Dean. What I've seen of him has been hammish. Hammish actors unless it's completely intentional makes me cringe. Anyway, many people have addressed the storyline already, so I will only give my impressions. Maybe it's b/c I was born 30 years after the fact, but James Dean does not come off as a teenager. He comes off as an immature, whiny, self-absorbed young adult. I kept wanting to tell him to grow up, even at the end.
Now that I've seen it, I will probably never watch it again. The melodrama effect just didn't work for me. I was not impressed. I prefer Brando and Newman as well.
I just reserved the book at my library so I can see what was missing.
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.
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.
*** 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.
Elia Kazan comes off the overwhelming success of On the Waterfront with this dramatically stunning adaptation of John Steinbeck's epic novel. This is far more complex than the average epic though. Steinbeck's writing is most clever in his contemplation of classic stories into a familiar back drop. That is part of what makes this film so powerful in its approach. Dean gives his star-defining performance and the supporting cast is always at his assistance. Kazan does a fine job at keeping a good hold of Steinbeck's often unfilmable material. An American classic and one of the best Kazan films and James Dean performances.
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