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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.
Even though Steinbeck supervised this screen adaptation, the screenplay
takes great liberties with the book, excising about 75% of the plot.
The results are often confusing, with some characters behavior and
motivation left more than a little underdeveloped. Despite the great
performances by Massey, Van Fleet, and especially Julie Harris, the
attention is forever on James Dean.
It's almost impossible to objectively separate Dean the actor from Dean the icon. However much he tries to create a unique and involving character of depth and subtlety, the viewer is constantly aware that they are really watching James Dean, poster child for teen-angst and 50's youthful rebellion. Though his real talent can be forever debated, not least due to the fact that we have so few performances on which to build an opinion, nobody can argue with the simple fact that he is fascinating to watch. Whenever he enters the frame, the viewer can't take their eyes off him. His performance is so detailed, so unexpected. Example Cal is standing at the top of the ice chute. He lights a cigarette. When his father notices, he shouts up for Cal to put it out. Any other actor would have taken the cigarette from his mouth and thrown it to the ground. Dean, instead, leans forward, opens his mouth, and just lets the cigarette fall. It's moments such as these, and there are a thousand throughout the movie, that makes you aware that you are watching the birth of a new kind of acting, and it's never less than fascinating to see.
The plot descends into the kind of melodrama and soap opera theatrics so beloved of post-war family sagas; the score, all lush and yearning strings, is too syrupy and intrusive; the production design makes very little effort to establish time and place (Aron Trask sports a greased back DA in 1917!); and Van Fleet's Kate is pitifully underdeveloped. And yet despite these flaws, the movie is extremely satisfying and well deserving of its classic status.
*** 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.
As Steinbeck himself admitted, Kazan's film was better than his novel. After having seen the 1981 mini-series I have to agree. The mini-series followed the book almost faithfully and the result was something so long and boring that it was unwatchable. The early years when Adam Trask met and married Kathy/Kate add nothing to the story of Cal and Aron, in fact it takes away from it. Kazan got it right in this 1955 film by making the viewer discover Kate as Cal discovers her, following that mysterious woman down the road. We lose our innocence along with young Cal as he comes to the terrible realization that his mother is evil and his father is a liar. What I love about this film is that there are no melodramatic tearful embraces between mother and son. Instead Cal has to hold back his affections for his hardened mother and his cold father. When the dam finally breaks inside Cal and the emotion comes pouring out of him it is heartbreaking and difficult to watch. James Dean is magnificent in his performance as Cal. Julie Harris was wonderful as Abra, the girl who tries to love and understand him. Raymond Massey and Jo Van Fleet were perfectly cast as the parents. This was one of the rare occasions when the movie far surpasses the book it was based on. People should stop comparing the two and take Steinbeck's word for it.
*** 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.
Based on a John Steinbeck novel, Elia Kazan's "East of Eden" stars
James Dean as Cal, the son of entrepreneur Adam Trask. Cal feuds with
his younger brother and father, both of whom perceive Cal to be "bad".
Also deemed "bad" is Cal's mother, the owner of a local brothel.
As Kazan has truncated Steinbeck's novel, each character's actions and motivations become slightly cartoonish. Adam himself is portrayed as a religious fundamentalist, so scarred by his now absent wife that he deems everything unsavoury to be a "mark of wickedness". Psychologically abused by his judgemental father, Cal embarks on an unhealthy quest to both find his mother and earn daddy's favour.
"East of Eden" is filled with artificial, exaggerated oppositions, trite melodrama and strained allusions to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. On the flip-side, it's beautifully shot, boasts amazing wide-screen photography and contains a number of interesting passages. Elevating things further is Dean's performance. Dean would act in only three films before dying at the age of 24 ("Giant", "East of Eden", "Rebel Without a Cause"). In each of these films, he played sensitive, troubled young men. These characters are outsiders, idealists, confused, ashamed and filled with a burning desire to belong. More than this, their on-screen suffering seemed to echo Dean's own off-screen troubles.
Dean's performance in "East of Eden" has been called "groundbreaking", but it wasn't really. Brando and Montgomery Clift were already making waves as Method Acting Mega Stars, and Paul Newman and others would soon do so as well. What Dean did well was popularise a certain turn-of-the-century teenage archetype; all adolescent ache and emotional turbulence. And as Dean was immortalised as an adolescent and never allowed to grow up, his characters only seemed more doomed. As the years went by, his three performances would accumulate almost mythological proportions. This sentimental necrophilia would blind fans to Dean's flaws his obvious attempts to mimic Brando, his overly mopey scenery-chewing etc but in a way is also wholly deserved. "East of Eden" boasts gorgeous colour cinematography by Ted McCord, a lush score by Leonard Rosenman, and fine performances by Julie Harris and Jo Van Fleet.
7.5/10 See "Marjorie Morningstar", "Some Came Running" and "Rebel Without a Cause".
James Dean was an icon in the 50's and earned 2 Oscar nominations while
only starring in 3 feature films. He was perhaps the new Marlon Brando
or so many other things, but his tragic car accident ended to his all
to brief career. What we do have of him is 3 movies, my favorite being
East of Eden. Elia Kazan found the unknown actor, like many others, as
part of an acting school for method actors and decided to use him in
East of Eden is a more modern reselling of the story of Cain and Abel. Cal must compete for his father's love with his brother Aron. His Dad, is a stern bible-thumping man who has a secret he keeps from his children. It's really that simple but done quite well. Too bad Elia left out half of the original novel recounting their father's past
Elia Kazan is an actor director and the preformacnes show. I've talked about James Dean for a good while now, and for good reason. His performance is probably one of the finest I've seen from. His mannerism and expression become Cal Trask. He shines in every scene he's in. In interaction with Adam Trask, his father played by Raymond Massey is almost too perfect. The actors seriously hated each other so don't ink it's all in the script. Elia Kazan just fueled the flames and it helps the movie. Jo Van Fleet also does a chilling commendable job as the brother's mother. The weak link in the cast is Richard Davalos, who is acceptable but easily outshines by everyone else in the cast.
Elia Kazan is the best director of the time in America and his films show. The use of CinemaScope shows e films scale, same with the music and overture. The use of odd angled shots shows the balance of the world and is revolutionary at the time.
This film however has a few flaws. It drags a bit in the middle and beginning,besides the opening scene. I would've also loved if he included the whole novel into the movie too and would've helped the size of film Elia was trying to make.
Overall great movie and should be watched by all people going into acting.
*** 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.
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