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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Steinbeck's novel "East of Eden" was one of those books that are
hard to forget, and so is the screen adaptation of the book, directed
by Elia Kazan, shown at MOMA in New York recently. The impact of the
novel was captured in Paul Osborn's screenplay. The film served as an
introduction to a young actor, James Dean, whose short life, and tragic
death, made him a legend. One can see the appeal he had in audiences
and the way the camera loved his features.
The action takes place at the beginning of the last century in Salinas, California, "the salad bowl of America". Adam Trask, a single father, raising two boys in his land, gambles on an experiment, keeping the lettuce he produces surrounded by ice, something that would revolutionize how the produce grown in the valley, which would keep fresh for the Eastern markets. Adam's efforts proves a flop.
Caleb Trask, a rebel young man, wonders about his mother Kate. He had been led to believe she is living in nearby Monterrey. What Caleb is not prepared is for the business his mother is involved; she is the owner of a popular brothel in town. Caleb haunts her, but she is not at all convinced she made a bad decision when she left Adam, a religious man who kept Kate away in the country.
Things get complicated when Caleb falls for his brother's Aaron's girlfriend, Abra. As WWI Is declared, young Caleb decides to borrow money from his mother to start planting beans, a crop much in demand. Things between the brothers come to a head as Aaron finds out about Abra and Caleb, after the revelation of the true identity of the boy's mother.
James Dean dominates everything in the film. He showed he had what it took to be a star in Hollywood. Julie Harris makes an impact as the sweet Abra. Raymond Massey plays the father with conviction. Jo Van Fleet is seen as Kate, in a role that gave her an Academy Award.
Close to the brink of America's involvement in the II World War the
Trask family living in a small community in Salinas Valley attempts to
revolutionize transport of fresh food with the use of ice wagons.
Deeply religious and well-meaning Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) brought
up his two sons by himself, having told them that their mother died
long ago. Aron (Richard Davalos) is the perfect child, helpful,
considerate and much akin to his father. His opposite is Cal (James
Dean), treated very much as an 'evil seed', a troublemaker and almost
an outcast within this small family of three. Change enters into the
life of the Trasks, when Cal unwittingly uncovers that his mother is in
fact still alive and operates a bordello in the neighbouring town.
Elia Kazan's "East of Eden", based on the brilliant novel by John Steinbeck, enters the XXI Century in a digitally improved version with vibrant colors and outstanding shots stemming from a weird phase in American film history. Nonetheless the ultimate pitfall stems from the impossibility to modernize the acting or storytelling enacting present in this revered oldie.
One of only a handful of films featuring the legendary James Dean, "East of Eden" was bound to develop an undying fanbase, hellbent on admiring the picture despite the problematic ageing of the movie itself. Dean himself comes across as a tremendous actor, a true volcanoe of talent, screen presence and charm, but even more apparent is that his is an uncut rough diamond yet to be fully utilized in a masterpiece. Nonetheless the acting methods employed by Kazan now seem horribly out of touch, while Julie Harris (playing Aron's fiancée) comes of wooden with a forcibly fake overacting. The contrast to the naturally rebellious Dean just enhances the weaknesses of the remaining cast.
The backbone of the movie is a family friendly rewrite of Steinbeck's novel with such ridiculous underpinnings as the absurd attempt to avoid explicitly talking about bordellos, instead referring to them as 'those houses'. Albeit justifiable given the religious upbringing of the Trask family, it does dilute certain key oppositions presented in the novel. 50+ years on the lightly treading presentation reeks with taking the easy 'Hollywood' road, so despite strong symbolic undertones the movie does seem awash of real depth, instead just offering a light dramatic punch for easy viewing. Given the high tempo narrative to which the newer generations are being accustomed to "East of Eden" does seem to unnecessarily drag, especially in between scenes not featuring James Dean.
Well placed on the shoulders of an excellent story and James Dean rough, but forceful performance, "East of Eden" does stand the test of time to a limited extent, now coming off overly melodramatic, self-consciously cautious and slightly heavyhanded with it treatment of the story's potential. Surprisingly in a movie focused on recovering the past the characters have none with little time really offered to discovering dark family secrets, instead tough subjects are glossed over with empty statements. That said the expectance to entail the multitude of threads in Steinbeck's novel may just have been beyond filming. Nonetheless "East of Eden" so diluted by the script seems overly hollow and fails to attack the real gist of the book.
*** 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 film is beautifully filmed in color CinemaScope. Kazan uses the
format to create a distinct mood and atmosphere from the farmlands and
vistas of California. This enhanced my appreciation for the book by
providing a setting that expanded on my limited imagination when
reading the book. However, I think it is a mistake to judge this movie
from the book. It is not the book. It should be judged for what it is
and not for what it might have been.
The story is that of conflicts within the Trask family: Adam, a stern moralistic father (Raymond Massey); Cal, a rebellious son (James Dean); Aron, the dutiful and favored son (Richard Davalos); and Kate, a woman from Adam's past (Jo Van Fleet). As Abra, Julie Harris provides a love interest for the Trask boys and Burl Ives is a standout as the diplomatic local sheriff who knows a lot of the town's secrets. The cast is near perfect, except that Dean and Harris seem a little old for their parts and Davalos does not quite hold is own with the other actors.
If conflict is what drives good drama, then there is enough here to go around. Cal wants the approval his father but does not know how to get it, and he cannot always suppress his evil demons--he is at war with himself. Adam is at a loss as to how to control his unruly son, his strict discipline and Bible readings are not the answer. Abra starts out as Aron's girlfriend, but sees Cal as more interesting and a little dangerous and of course that sets off a great sibling rivalry between the brothers. As a shadowy figure from Adam's past Kate plays a crucial role. We watch with interest as these personalities bump against each other.
I found the basic struggle between Cal and Adam to be quite believable. I think most everyone has encountered someone who dominates by force of will and strict moral authority. Such people usually command respect, but they can be intimidating. Mixing a person of Cal's temperament with a father like Adam is bound to produce some fireworks.
I thought James Dean was ideal for the part of the sensitive, misunderstood, moody, and independent Cal who was torn between his pious father and his disreputable mother. The image Dean creates for Cal in this movie seems to apply to the image we have of Dean himself. I have wondered about the extent to which he manufactured that image. One can only speculate as to what kind of career Dean would have had. He was good at playing the vulnerable, sensitive, and tormented sort, but it is hard to picture him ever achieving a powerful performance to match Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" or Paul Newman in "The Hustler."
The score is intrusive in places, but the main theme is one that sticks in the mind. Whenever I think of this movie, I think of that music.
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 ***
This film is a classic because of James Dean who is probably at his
best here; It is a classic too because it usurps the title of a classic
novel by John Steinbeck. It is unimaginable why Steinbeck accepted that
film since it is a pure perversion of his novel. Steinbeck should have
rejected his paternity and asked for important damages. Maybe that was
to long before Stephen King's and the Lawnmower Man. Elia Kazan is here
the main culprit and should be brought to court.
The place is all wrong. It is exclusively Salinas and the bottom of the valley and not at all the ranch up the valley where nearly two thirds of the novel take place. Of course those two thirds are completely eradicated from the film. The brothels, or houses of ill fame are situated in a coastal city, Monterey, beyond a ridge of mountains which prevents the boys from plainly walking to Kate's. Caleb has to take a train to go there, which makes the last twist in the story, Caleb walking his brother Aron to the brothel to meet his mother is impossible because it is unimaginable that Aron, in the state of rejection of his brother he is at that moment, would in any way have accepted to take a freight train to Monterey.
That's not the only un-understandable change on places and locales. The book concentrates on only one very short period of time in the novel and is obliged to move everything around. The car for instance is delivered in the book in the ranch up the valley when the boys are very young teens and not in Salinas. That of course changes everything. But the greatest changes are with the characters.
The characters have no past which means they have no density. They are caricatures and sketches but they are not human. For example Kate, or Cathy if you prefer: her criminal past is not mentioned, the firing of a gun at Adam is then purely circumstantial and not the continuation of a criminal nature. Her killing the Madame of the whore house some time after the moment when she arrives there and after that madame has signed the will that gives the whore house to Kate, is of course erased and you cannot understand how without one single cent or even dime under her name, when she runs away from her husband and her sons, she can become the sole owner of the whore house, and what's more accepted by the sheriff. In the same way her planning to blackmail all the important people of the community who have visited her house at some time or other is of course taken away. The film even gives her some positive side since she lends the five thousand dollars Caleb needs to start his bean business with Will Hamilton and we don't even know what's the connection between the Trasks and the Hamiltons since it goes back to the first two thirds of the novel.
Her final suicide and her final will giving everything to her son Aron, and only that one, at the moment when he is dying in France is of course taken away.
The second intolerable change is the erasing of Lee, the Chinese servant of the family who was there before the birth of the boys and who raised them in the total absence and inconsistency of the father. Lee does not exist in the film. Then who takes care of the house? Who cooks? Who prepares coffee? And who lends the five thousand dollars? Lee is the acme of good in this pile of manure and he is the only one who, with Chinese wisdom, can turn a shovelful of manure into a plateful of gold. He is the one who makes Adam forgive Caleb for his horrible act that sent Aron to his death. The end turns mushy and spineless and nerveless and innocuous, unimportant, banal.
The third change is Adam. Adam is a careless totally non-invested person who was made that by the running away and shooting of Cathy/Kate. He is the one who never quotes the Bible in the book. The only reading in the Bible he does is the turning point and central nervous system of the whole novel, and this reading that took place on the ranch up in the valley, and not at Adam's initiative, is of course taken out: the 16 first verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis (Abel and Cain) with the particularly central verse 7 and the long research and discussion of the meaning of that verse in the book. It is the conviction of Lee taken from Chinese wisdom that man is free to choose good or evil that brings Lee to go back to the Hebrew version of that verse 7 with four other learned Chinese in San Francisco and two rabbis and find out that all available translations quoted in the book are lies because they replace the freedom of choice of man given by God himself with a prediction from God or an order from God. Adam is not a Bible quoting bigot. Adam is not rejecting Caleb because he is doing bad things, but because he Adam has selected Aron as the only true one because he looks like the picture of Cathy he has kept in his mind. He loves Aron as if he were his runaway wife and he rejects Caleb because he does not look like her, in fact he looks like Charles, Adam's brother, another erasure in the film.
The lettuce episode is reduced to nothing.
This film with a tremendous young actor who could have done a career if he had not been frustrated to the point of dying in a speeding car is unluckily a complete betrayal of the novel and the phenomenal message Steinbeck was levelling at our blind and vengeful society.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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.
This movie has shows beautiful landscapes. Often there will be a wide
shot with mountains in the background or a crowd of people enjoying
themselves. The framing goes along with the scenery and shapes of rooms
to create leading lines like in paintings or photographs to attract the
viewers eyes more. One notable part of the cinematography was the use
of dutch camera angles which got under my skin at the right moments by
showing the scene as being slightly tilted to make the scenario seem
more crazy; it acts as a good means to make the viewer feel more like
The parts are all very well played, especially by James Dean. He looks creepy at first, but that is only to help introduce his character in a way that most characters see him as being. You slowly get the sense that there is a sensitive person inside of him who becomes his greatest enemy and ally.
The characters are very well written and the character development makes the entire movie interesting. The slow deterioration of the brother is very easy to see, but isn't overdone by leaving the comforts of only being subtle in storytelling. You begin to feel sorry most of the main characters.
The lighting is good. It feels a little too realistic at first with the sun being bright for a good majority of the first 15 minutes, but as the story develops. It constantly switches between dark and bright lighting to create a mood. It does this in a special way to only show lights and darks in certain parts of the screen to exaggerate feelings that are already in the viewer. There is one scene where James Deans's character does a shameful act and as he leaves, it switches to the next shot where you only see his shadow upside down and pans upward to show the person like the camera is telling the viewer that the person is dark and wicked.
The story is very emotional which makes it interesting even if it may seem predictable in a couple of parts. It can be very hard to predict many of the events, especially those events that happen in the last 40 minutes. It's a good movie to watch for anyone who wants something to think about for a day.
This film called " East of Eden " was made in 1955. Because it had a very young but promising actor named James Dean, it was touted as the epitome of his films. Novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck wrote the original story which told the tale of the Trask family. The great Raymond Massey plays the patriarch, Adam Trask, a strong willed individual who believes in a strong work ethic, quotes from the bible and tries to imbue his sons with its scriptural phrases. Richard Davalos plays Aron Trask, the favorite son who dreams of success, marring his girl and living up to his father's expectations. James Dean is Caleb Trask, a troubled son who believes in his destiny which is hampered by his father's emotional ambivalence. The story is slow and difficult to identify with as nearly every character is stereo-typical of a small town. Predictions of a shaky economic future, impending war and amassed cultural biases are the back drop to a mixture of insecurities, family secrets and deeply embedded resentments. The Trask family is a mirror image of the prejudicial citizens as the two brothers vie for their share of attention from a lack-luster father. The movie is slow to build and when it does reaches it's climax, a group of Psychiatrists would have committed the entire family. Wheather the movie itself should be viewed as a classic, depends on the individual and his patience. ***
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Working with Elia Kazan, one of the greatest directors of 1950s stage
and screen, James Dean was able to fully display his heartbreaking
vulnerability and trademark ambiguity. He adds an element of mystery to
his character, Cal Trask, by carefully choosing which emotions to
reveal to the audience and which ones to keep hidden.
Dean is an extremely physical actor, and some of his most imitated acting flourishes are his mannerisms and movements. Throughout the film, he slouches, fidgets, pulls on his ear, lies down in the dirt with his beans, and throws his head back to highlight his frustration. These attempts at naturalistic acting are among the best ever committed to celluloid.
Dean is the movie. There's no question about that. But, there's some excellent support from Julie Harris, Raymond Massey (as his cold, remote father), and Jo Van Fleet as his long-lost mother. Elia Kazan took advantage of the fact that some of the actors, most notably Massey, did not get along with Dean, and was able to make the bitter exchanges and arguments between the characters all the more believable.
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