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The early, violent death of someone so famous was a tragedy; but for
someone who's never seen a Dean performance ("East of Eden" is his only
movie I've seen to date; it has since been joined by "Rebel Without a
Cause" as of Nov. 2007, and "Giant", in Jan. 2010) it's easy to get
suckered by these details into believing that this is the only thing
that adds substance to the man. Not so.
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 ***
When the majority of people think back on the career of James Dean they
tend to think of Rebel Without A Cause as Dean's masterpiece and for
good reason. Dean's debut, East of Eden on the other hand is an
extremely poor adaptation of a novel of the same name that was written
by John Steinbeck. This is the film that put James Dean on the map and
was the starting point of his rise as a cultural icon. While some may
call this film a milestone, it comes off as a huge misstep for director
The film opens up at around ¾ of the way through the actual book and still manages to be a jumbled and uneven mess. Major characters from the book are cut out and in the process create giant plot holes. New characters are added such as Abra who changes the relationship between a lot of characters and adds different tones and themes to the film that Steinbeck originally never intended. Another problem the film suffers from is it's extremely uneven pacing, there is too much time wasted on things that never play into the actual arch of the film. Kazan seems like he tries to distract his audience rather than engage them.
Elia Kazan who has shown through his previous films that he is clearly a capable director and this is the fact that makes this film so disappointing. Kazan never seems truly grasp the underlying tones of Steinbeck's book and this translates to the screen. Instead of treating his material with care and insight he instead seems to constantly exploit Dean's "to cool for school" attitude to manipulate the audience into empathizing with a character because of his looks and not his motives. Kazan never exposes the core essence of his characters he lets characters tell you what their characters are thinking instead of letting them show what they are feeling, a major weakness from any director.
The films biggest weakness is that it never devotes enough time to character development. Characters constantly make decision's that seem out of place and unnatural. For instance when Aron becomes insane and leaves for war his fiancé Abra is totally indifferent to the entire situation. Yet her heart breaks for Cal when he is faced with the fact that he may have to live his life without the forgiveness of his father, even though he is the cause of Aron's leaving. It seems the more and more Cal destroys the lives of the people around him the more they take him in with open arms.
Aside from poor character development the film fails to give an adequate amount of back- story for certain characters. The dynamics of the relationship between Adam and his two sons is never really explored beyond face value. It is never explained how exactly Cal finds out that his mother is alive nor does the film explain the motives of the relationship between Cal and the person he starts his bean business with, who appears on screen a total of 3 times and than forgotten.
The film while generally disappointing and uninspired does have its moments from time to time. Jo Van Fleet who gives the best performance in the film won the award for best supporting actress at the 1956 Academy Awards. Van Fleet's film debut proved that she could hold her own even among larger that life actors such as James Dean. Another strong point of the film can be attributed to the film's art department who do a stellar job at recreating the Salinas Valley circa the early 1900's.
Cinematographer Ted McCord is the real heart of this film. McCord takes chances and they pay off. His use of lighting is more moody than most studio films of the 50's and he maintains a sense of movement even when the actor's blocking remains mostly static. McCord is responsible for developing characters that many of the unimpressive actor's in this film could not accomplish through acting. During one scene between Cal and his father McCord highlights their distorted relationship by using innovative camera tilts that gives the scene a real sense of drama that the acting lacked. The biggest tragedy resulting from this film is that Ted McCord didn't even get nominated for an Academy Award.
After all these years East of Eden seems aged and uninspired. James Dean proved that he was easy to watch on camera but didn't prove that he was an accomplished actor. Unfairly critically acclaimed and winner of one deserved Academy Award East of Eden really only ever accomplishes two things. It proves that people love "happy" endings even if they aren't really "happy" and that too many people are suckers for a pretty face. It is insane to think that Steinbeck "loved" this film upon seeing it.
I've seen this movie several times, most recently on DVD with an additional DVD that includes the premier and a documentary about James Dean. Each time I see this movie I see it from a new perspective. I learned from the DVD and from reading Elia Kazan's comments that the character Cal (played by Dean) is really Steinbeck in many ways in his youth and Kazan also identified with him. I learned that there was real friction between Dean and the man who played his father, Raymond Massey and that Dean deliberately provoked Massey to get angry with him to bring out the moment in the film of the father's feelings towards his son. I also marvel each time i see this movie at the outstanding performance of Jo Van Fleet. She deserved her best supporting actress academy award. This movie resonates on many levels as do most of Kazan's films. It is modern retelling of the garden of eden story and it is the story of the troubled youth of the fifties fighting against the conservatism of the Eisenhower years. It is a story of the confusion and conflicts in a family with a war approaching and it's a story about a woman (Van Fleet's character) who doesn't like being bottled up in a controlled religious setting. Many things to enjoy here and one wonders where the artists of Kazans stature are in this day and age. I only wish that all of Kazan's films were on DVD, such as Baby Doll and Wild River. I wonder if anyone but me notices that on the extra DVD where there is an interview with John Steinbeck that he shifts and contorts his mouth in a manner very like Dean in the movie. It was said that neither Steinbeck nor Kazan originally liked Dean but both agreed that he was perfect for the part and both identified with him very much.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A terrible version of the book, in every single way. This movie DID NOT
convey the beautiful literature, story-line or portray important and
relevant characters of East of Eden.
Where's Sam Hamilton and Lee??? Sam Hamilton and Lee are wonderful and important characters in book, not even mentioned in the movie. As the film does not give the background of Kate/Cathy and her deviate ways. All the important facts and sentiment are totally amiss in this movie.
As I do not mind James Dean as Cal, as some do, he had nothing to do with the poorly written script. Cal would never ask Kate/Cathy for a loan for $5,000, Cal (in the book) received the loan from Lee.
I am so glad I finished the book, before seeing this movie. This movie is not a 1/4 of the book and a bad adaptation of it. This movie is a disappointment. If you are really interested in the story, take the time to read the Book East of Eden. Note for any Students trying to use this movie for a book report, don't, you will NOT receive a passing grade (all facts are wrong).
OK, there are a million '10' reviews for this movie. After five or six
pages of reviews, I finally found a '3', so I won't give it less than
that to not be thought of as a killjoy.
Steinbeck.... Brilliant! Elia Kazan.... Brilliant! Julie Harris...Brilliant! Raymond Massey...Brilliant! Jo Van Fleet... Very underrated. I even liked Albert Dekker!
But James Dean...... I really don't get it. To me, he was 'incredibly' overrated.
A 'method' actor, Dean seems to have had different 'methods' than Brando, Karl Malden, Dustin Hoffman, and many others. Whenever he's on the screen, I feel like he's shouting, 'Look, Ma... I'm 'Acting'!' This guy was so over the top in everything he did!
I know all the old guys at the studios at the time were trying to be 'hip' and 'with it', showing they knew what 'teen angst' was all about. They were waaaay off the mark.
You want to see 'real' teen angst from that period?.... watch Sal Mineo in anything he did. In 'Rebel Without A Cause', all Sal had to do was play about 8 angst-levels down from Dean, and he was a 'real kid'.
I watched about 15 minutes of 'East of Eden' with a group of twenty-somethings, and their reaction to the movie was, Who's this cornball 'Dean'???
Dean's acting was dated in '1955'.... in 2011, he's a cartoon. He would have been pretty good in silent movies.
The only other Kazan movie I can't watch is his 'other' movie of the same genre, 'Splendor in The Grass', 'another' film that everyone else thinks is brilliant, but to me is off the graph.
Everything else Kazan did, I can't get enough of!
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.
Even though I've never read the book, I find this adaptation miserable.
Let me make a disclaimer here. I've started this movie several times,
but never have been able to get to the end although it was obvious
where it was going to end up. It disgusts me at almost every level.
I've also never understood the attraction of James Dean. He only seems to play this character - the scion of an overly wealthy family who, seeing poverty all around him - finds no reaction except whining and bleating about his lofty position in society. Well, more to the point, he whines constantly about how his mommy or daddy or both don't love him enough.
In this loser flick, there is a scene where Dean finds his soul mate - or so I suppose it'll turn out. She is giggling about having thrown away a $3,000 ring her dad, a widower, gave to his new bride. Then she says she forgave him for remarrying. Dean and she find this episode hilarious. Note that this is set during WWI where that $3,000 is enough to support three farm worker families for a year. Such is the movie that it only looks at life from these ignorant bitchy teens' point of view that this violent wasting is overlooked or used as a plot device to weld these characters to each other.
Throughout the entire movie, Dean speaks in a weasely nasal whine and slinks around half folded up which I suppose is spoiled 50's American body language for being beaten down by immense wealth. The movie is constantly sympathetic toward this miserable brat excusing him running roughshod over anybody and anything to feed his own narrow needs.
For example, when he decides to make a device to harvest more efficiently, he steals a vital part from some hard working poor people. This either puts them temporarily out of business or out of business until they can replace it - at enormous cost to them. He could have bought it with his pin money but instead he steals it from poor people. When caught, all the sympathy of the movie is on his side. Personally, I would have loved to see the poor victims of his theft beat him senseless.
In fact, thinking about this entire movie, the thing which is missing is that Dean isn't beaten and expelled from the town. Everybody would have been better off and the movie would have been enormously more satisfying.
In 1917, in Monterey, California, Cal (James Dean) is a youngster needy
of fatherly love. His father Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) is a farmer
that favors his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) and they believe that
their mother died when they were children. One day, Cal discovers that
his mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet) is still alive and is the owner of a
brothel in the nearby Salinas. However he keeps his discovery in secret
and does not tell to his father and brother.
When Adam decides to invest in the transportation of frozen lettuce, there is a problem on the railroad and he loses his saving. Cal contacts Kate and borrows five thousand dollars to invest in the promising bean business since the United States has entered in the World War I to recover his father's money and earn his love. Meanwhile Aron's girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) and Cal fall in love with each other. Cal is well succeeded in his business and decides to give a surprise birthday party organized by Abra to his father to give his money as a birthday gift. The reaction of Adam and Aron trigger a series of incidents with tragic consequences.
"East of Eden" is a movie directed by Elia Kazan with a story slightly based on Cain and Abel, with the rivalry of two brothers since Cal is a needy young man and Aron is envious of his brother. The movie shows the treatment spent to German immigrants when the United States joined the war. The open conclusion induces to the redemption of Cal after the tragedy in his family. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Vidas Amargas" ("Bitter Lives")
Elia Kazan directs this heated, occasionally heavy-handed or melodramatic adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel (the final stages of it, anyway). It features a great cast, gorgeous locations, superb cinematography, majestic scoring--but is encumbered by a script with too much ground to cover; there are enough story threads and characters here for two more pictures. In 1917 Northern California, a genial single father and lettuce farmer--just discovering the merits of refrigeration--juggles his attention and affections between his two sons, one a straight arrow with a steady girl and the other a hell-raising hot-head. The bad son is determined to find out what's become of his mother, reputed dead but really making a decent living as a madame in nearby Monterey; his clean-cut brother, who harbors deep-seated jealousies, is concerned about the impending war with Germany and his own non-involvement (read: cowardice). At times overstated, and with a showy side that reveals a certain self-consciousness, "East of Eden" could surely do without the Biblical parallels and implications, however it does give its talented performers exceptionally meaty roles to play. James Dean cuts a dandy presence on the screen; though he sometimes comes off as a junior version of Brando, Dean nevertheless owns the film while conveying a range of hyper-sensitive moods quite compellingly. Richard Davalos, playing Abel to Dean's Cain, perhaps isn't quite in the same league as his co-star, but he's well-cast and looks astonishingly like Dean. Julie Harris, as the nice, decent girl who is attracted to both brothers, does the hand-wringing bit convincingly enough, and her bedside speech near the finale is genuinely moving. Jo Van Fleet won a Supporting Oscar as the boys' intimidating mother, Raymond Massey does solid work as their father, and Burl Ives is the cool-headed local law. Some of the editing is sloppy (especially in the early scenes), and indeed the picture seems to begin in the middle of this tale, with bold undercurrents we sense but are not privy to. It's a good film, not a great one, and keeps to the right side of soap opera thanks to forceful interaction, a beautiful production design, and the sweep of grand storytelling. **1/2 from ****
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.
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