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Based on a novel by Edna Ferber, Giant is an appropriately Texas-sized
western/generational saga that parallels familial evolution with the
changing socio-economic nature of the United States over an
approximately 30-year period from the 1920s through the film's present,
and by extension, a turn of the (20th) century mentality segueing into
a more contemporary outlook. It is filled with excellent writing,
fabulous direction and technical elements, outstanding performances,
gorgeous photography, and plenty of depth via subtly implied
At its heart, Giant is the story of Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson), heir, along with his sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) to a family cattle ranch that exceeds half a million acres. As the film opens, Bick has traveled to Maryland, ostensibly to purchase a horse from Dr. Horace Lynnton, who has a sizeable ranch of his own, but also perhaps to search for a wife. Whether the latter was his initial intention or not, he ends up finding a spouse in Dr. Lynnton's opinionated and somewhat irascible but beautiful daughter, Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor). Bick moves Leslie from the rolling green pastures that she calls home to the huge, dusty plains of Reata, his Texas ranch.
In the process, she ends up turning his world upside down. Luz sees Leslie as a threat to their routine, an interpretation that Leslie doesn't exactly try to deny. Leslie integrates herself into the daily workings of Reata and initiates changes in the way Bick and Luz behave towards their mostly Mexican staff, among other things. Bick and Leslie have children, but they're not exactly keen on following the family tradition. Other challenges and perhaps the strongest cultural change in the film comes via Jett Rink (James Dean), who goes through a gradual transformation from his early status in the film as a dirt-poor, uneducated ranch hand.
At a three and a half-hour running time, and covering decades in the lives of many different characters, Giant is nothing if not sprawling. But this is the kind of sprawl that works. Unlike most sprawling films, the cast of characters in Giant actually turns out to be relatively small, we always have a clear idea of who each character is, and every event leads to the next in a very tightly-written, logical manner.
In fact, one of the more unusual but laudable aspects of Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat's script is the way that characters will mention something in an almost off-the-cuff manner before we immediately cut to the full realization of the previous comment. For example, Leslie and Bick are barely courting before we see them married. Other examples--Leslie goes from telling Bick that she's pregnant to having the baby in the next instant; Bick says that he's going to fly in a plane low over a particular hotel--just for dramatic effect with respect to a certain character--and in the next shot, this is just what he's doing. The first couple times this happens, it's almost a bit unnerving because of its uniqueness. We figure that the characters are in the middle of a dream sequence. But it quickly becomes apparent that the device is designed to enable large time span passages in an instant, and for the overall structure of the film, it works perfectly.
Given that structure, it was also unusual in this era to pick younger actors who would then have to be aged 30 years or so (the more standard procedure was to pick middle aged actors who could be made both younger and older through make-up and lighting). But Hudson, Taylor and Dean are perfect. Dean is especially impressive as he undergoes the most significant transformation. All three of his major films are almost heartbreaking to watch; he was an incredible talent but didn't have a chance to do much with it before he tragically passed away. But all three principal cast members are at the top of their game here; each is able to do a bit of scene stealing if they want. It creates a lot of energy throughout the film and enhances the occasional tensions in the script.
The smaller roles are perfectly filled as well. I was particularly amused with Dennis Hopper among the supporting cast. Hopper portrays Bick and Leslie's son, Jordan III. This was his first major role, and he meshes well, but at the same time, you can easily see the more infamous Hopper ala Easy Rider's (1969) Billy, Blue Velvet's (1986) Frank Booth, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2's (1986) Lieutenant "Lefty" Enright.
The cinematography and production design are consistently beautiful. The stark Texas landscapes (filmed primarily in the town of Marfa) couldn't have more impact. The Benedict home is oddly Gothic and a bit eerie in its exterior (especially post-Psycho, 1960), and lushly gorgeous and Victorian inside. Later scenes give the interior a redecoration to match changing fashions.
Giant is extremely engaging in its soap-operatic family drama, but just as captivating for its subtle handling of important social themes. Leslie's respect for the Mexican ranch hands and servants parallels the slowly and occasionally painfully evolving public opinion about different ethnicities that is still developing. She also tries her best to usher in a bit of woman's liberation, open-mindedness in child rearing, and many other "progressive" attitudes. She's a symbol, in some ways, of Northeastern (U.S.) thinking filtering across the country in the early part of the 20th Century.
Giant is heavy on symbolism in many ways. Jett Rink's newfound fortune isn't just a personal transformation, but it symbolizes changing technology and the necessary adaptations to remain viable economically; it's a move away from a more agrarian existence. There is also pithy commentary on World War II--just look at who returns in one piece and who doesn't, and the different attitudes towards this.
It would probably take a book to just give an adequate analysis of this film. It goes without saying that you need to see Giant if you haven't already.
I first saw this film when I was 12 years old. It instantly became my
favorite film of all time. I've seen it at least 6 times in the last thirty
years, and enjoy it more each time. I was pleased to see that it at least
made the top 100 films of all time list, I believe it was the National
Board of Review; If not, it was as prestigious an organization.
Great characterizations abound! Never has a films with such youthful leads, generated so much emotional impact. Even though George Stevens deservedly won for Best Director, the film should have garnered more Oscars, it was nominated in 11 or 12 categories. It definitely superior in every way to Mike Todd's "Around the World in 80 Days", even though that was a delightful movie, but clearly without the substance of "Giant".
I always dreamed that subsequent generations would discover this movie and lift it to the blockbuster status that it deserves. I encourage anyone to see this movie, it has held up flawlessly over the years. A honest to goodness fabulous movie!
The plot: Texas ranch owner Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) travels to
purchase a prize horse, but falls in love at first sight with the
owner's pampered daughter Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor). He woos and wins
her quickly, they marry, then travel back to his isolated ranch.
Leslie, after a rough start, proves herself quite the force of nature. Ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean) falls into unrequited love with Leslie, uttering, in one scene, one of my favorite lines in the film, something like, "Mrs. Benedict, you sure do look right good enough to eat, yeah, good enough to eat...." (voice trails off and he looks like he's going to lick his lips) - and then when he strikes it rich with oil, he takes his bitterness out in several ways.
With a stellar supporting cast including Mercedes McCambridge, Sal Mineo, Carroll Baker, and Dennis Hopper, "Giant" is the original miniseries before anyone knew what a miniseries even was...except this is of course a classic film of the big screen, not a TV movie.
Directed by George Stevens, the sprawling epic (201 minutes, but it goes fast, believe me) beautifully covers two generations of family and a variety of issues, including marriage, family, childrearing, social snobbery and racism, the latter two being covered especially well. When in the mood for a well-paced, involved, alternately funny, sad, heartwarming, and emotionally fulfilling epic, "Giant" always fits the bill for me.
My favorite bit of trivia - Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson became fast friends on the set, and indulging together in partying/drinking binges most every night, after filming stopped. In the scene where the two are watching a marriage, the two actors had to stop during the filming several times to take turns going outside to throw up, as both were terribly hungover from the previous night's revelries.
"Giant" is a sometimes forgotten masterpiece which is remembered for its massive budget (becoming the most expensive movie ever made at that time) and of course James Dean's death during the final stages of production. All the sub-stories during the making of this film overshadow the fact that this is easily one of the top ten movies ever made. Definitely in the class with epics like "Gone With the Wind" and "Lawrence of Arabia", "Giant" is a 200-minute symphony of a movie about the life of a Texas cattle rancher (Oscar-nominee Rock Hudson) and his wife from the East Coast (Elizabeth Taylor). Immediately following their marriage, Hudson's older sister (Mercedes McCambridge, Oscar-nominated) dies after falling off the same horse that Hudson had bought from Taylor's father. Disgusted with the fact that Hudson had married Taylor, McCambridge had decided to leave a small part of her land to quiet cow-hand James Dean (in his finest performance, garnering him his second consecutive posthumous Oscar nomination). Hudson is advised to buy the land from Dean, but Dean refuses to sell. Now Dean is trying to strike oil and is ultimately successful. He becomes a huge oil baron and one of the richest and most powerful men in Texas. Hudson continues to make money as well, but eventually has to swallow his pride and become a wild-catter himself. The hate and friction between Hudson and Dean is sure to lead to fireworks for all associated with the two volatile men. Secretly, Dean has always loved Taylor and even goes so far as to try and get with Taylor's youngest daughter (a brilliant turn by Carroll Baker). Dean is trying to substitute Baker for the lover he has always had for Taylor. By this time Dean is well in his 50s (due to heavy makeup), but he is trying to capture the failed dreams of his youth. Ultimately, Dean has everything except the one thing he really wanted. He lacks love in his life and he suffers miserably through as the film progresses. The older twin children of Hudson and Taylor's both grow up to go in very different directions. The daughter (Fran Bennett) marries and wants to run the ranch, to Hudson's approval and Taylor's dismay. However, the son (a very young Dennis Hopper) marries a Hispanic woman (very taboo back in those days) and wants to go north to become a doctor. Of course Hudson is outraged at this development and nearly disowns Hopper all together. Hudson then decides that Bennett's new husband (Earl Holliman) may be the best for the job. Holliman though is immediately drafted into World War II, along with Hispanic laborer Sal Mineo. Hudson worries about change after he passes away, but he eventually learns that most of the things he obsesses about are not as important as other matters. Equality for females and Hispanic Americans are major messages throughout here. Much like novelist Edna Ferber's equally excellent "Cimarron" (which dealt with sexism and racism toward Native- and African-Americans in Oklahoma), "Giant" paints a wonderfully complex picture of humanistic relationships from varying cinematic angles. Overall, "Giant" is a huge motion picture that is so smart, multi-layered and deep-thinking that it requires over three hours to tell the entire story. Everything here is so magnificent. The Oscar-winning direction by George Stevens, the screenplay, the art direction, the editing, the costume design, the makeup, the sound and the original musical score are all superb. Almost every actor does the best work of their respective careers as well. James Dean and Rock Hudson are the best. Mercedes McCambridge (albeit in a very small role) is super. Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker (Baker even received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 1956 for "Baby Doll") both show amazing range at their very young ages. Chill Wills (who plays Hudson's old wise uncle) and Elizabeth Taylor give stellar performances as always. Overlooked in 1956 (the unmemorable "Around the World in 80 Days" won the Best Picture Oscar), "Giant" is easily the best film from that weak year and is ranked as the best movie of that decade in my book. One of the most excellent productions of all time. 5 stars out of 5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Giant" met the lush, sprawling Edna Ferber novel on its own level
Detailing the history of a Texas royal family, the movie, like the
novel, is a monument to myths about Texas size, wealth, and vulgarity
A well-bred lady from Virginia, Liz is the outsider who marries the big, strong, thick-headed ruler of a family dynasty (Rock Hudson) and who stubborn1y refuses to lose her own notions of right and wrong
In choosing as his bride this independent woman who won't conform to Texas folkways, Hudson selected a wily and persevering antagonist, a lady with a mind of her own who challenges, and loves him every step of the way At the end, when he fights the owner of a roadside diner who will not serve his Mexican daughter-in-law and grandchild, Liz can count the twenty-five-year battle hers Playing the liberal to her husband's reactionary, she's succeeded finally in educating her man It's one of the few occasions when Taylor's the wise teacher rather than the recalcitrant pupil
The marriagea prototype for the Taylor ménage, in which tenderness and turbulence are closely mixedis set against the evolution of Texas from old-fashioned to modern As horse-loving Virginia deb, as new bride, as threat to her husband's mannish domineering sister, as young wife and mother, as patrona of the ranch who would rather talk politics with the men than chit-chat with the women, as the unattainable mistress of Jett Rink's dreams, as dignified, middle-aged champion of American-Chicano integration, Liz is at the center of the epic canvas, and it's a wise and charming performance
Stevens again shots the stillness of her serene beauty, but he also explores the temperament of the Taylor spitfire Leslie Lynnton is one of Taylor's strong heroines, one of the few women she's played who, if they absolutely had to, might make it on their own
George Stevens' 1956 epic "Giant" is the story of the Jordan Benedict
(Rock Hudson), the male heir to one of the largest cattle ranching
families in Texas. At the start of the film, we see Jordan traveling to
Maryland to look at a horse he is interested in purchasing, There he
meets Leslie, (Elizabeth Taylor) the daughter of the man he is
purchasing the horse from (and the unofficial "owner" of the horse) and
immediately falls in love with her. The feeling is mutual, so after an
incredibly brief (two day) courtship, they marry and he brings her back
to his ranch in Texas, Reatta. At first, life on the ranch is tough,
particularly while dealing with Jordan's overprotective, no-nonsense
sister Luz. (Mercedes McCambridge) Leslie soon adjusts, however, and
the two of them start a family. Meanwhile, Jordan is at constant odds
with one of his ranch hands, Jet Rink (James Dean) whom he always wants
to fire, but is eternally protected by Luz. When Luz unexpectedly dies,
Jet is ready to walk off the ranch for good, but discovers that Luz has
bequeathed a parcel of the land to him. Partly to tick Jordan off,
partly for his respect for Luz and partly so that he can have something
for himself, Jett eschews Jordan's cash buyout and instead sets up a
homestead on the land. Five years later, Jet strikes oil, and soon he
is again at odds with the Benedicts, as Jet, having become one of the
richest men in Texas, wants to buy out Reatta, while Jordan wants to
keep the ranch for cattle raising, and most importantly to keep it in
the family. The next 15-20 years are spent raising their children and
trying to cope with a changing family dynamic, one where the children
may not want to adhere to the roles that have been pre-attributed to
them, a struggle that is particularly hard for their son Jordan III
(Dennis Hopper) because as the sole male heir, his dream of becoming a
doctor is seemingly out of the question. "Giant" is about life, and the
ever-changing role of the American family.
"Giant" is a very long film, (about three and a half hours) but this time frame is necessary because the story is so rich. Despite its running time, there are no pacing issues, and no real superfluous scenes. The cinematography is lush and rich (I never really thought Texas to be all that intriguing, but William C. Mellor's photography was exquisite. The performances by the principals were very good, particularly since they had to age 25 years in the film. This wasn't a mere makeup job, you could feel the aging in the way they carried themselves, and their facial expressions. James Dean in particular, perhaps because he had such a fascinating character, was stunning. Jet Rink is a complex character, and Dean really worked the role fantastically. I was also impressed, considering the overly idealistic Hollywood of the 1950's, that "Giant", while ending on a happy note, did not compromise its characters in any way to achieve its ending. Jordan for example, is typical old-guard Texas, and therefore looks down on Mexicans. When his son marries one, he has marginal acceptance and is always polite, but even after engaging in a fight to defend the honor of his grandson, he still expresses his woe that his grandson is who he is. Also, Leslie is an unabashed free-thinker who often challenges the Texas traditions, much to Jordan's chagrin. Throughout their years together however, she does not compromise her views and need to express them. I really liked this about the film, because it is rare for the time, particularly when the genre is melodrama.
I really liked this film, though when recommending it, have to caution because of the sheer length of the film. Watching "Giant" is an investment of time, but it is certainly a worthwhile investment. 7/10 --Shelly
I am of the opinion that it is impossible to make a bad film out of an
Edna Ferber book. Her backgrounds are epic and she creates characters
who fill the backgrounds that their stories take place.
Such is the case of Giant and the story of Bick Benedict, Leslie Lynnton, and Jett Rink and all the Texans here, native and transplanted. Giant's story begins with Bick Benedict coming to Maryland to buy a prize stallion and in a whirlwind courtship, marrying and bringing back the stallion and it's owner as well who becomes Leslie Lynnton.
Benedict as played by Rock Hudson is co-owner with his sister Mercedes McCambridge of one large piece of Texas real estate named Reata which makes the Ponderosa look like a homestead. 595,000 acres Hudson modestly states to the Lynnton guests at dinner. He's also incurred the jealousy of one of his ranch hands, James Dean as Jett Rink who envies Hudson in all things including his new bride.
Hudson and Dean were both up for Best Actor in 1956 losing to Yul Brynner in The King and I, but I've always felt that this was Elizabeth Taylor's film. Liz showed what she could do in George Stevens's A Place in the Sun and unfortunately she went back to MGM and got a bunch of films that were really beneath her talents. It was George Stevens again who even though he wanted Grace Kelly in the part first, got a great performance out of Elizabeth Taylor. Although she's overawed at first by the Texans and their ways, she warms gradually up to the role of mistress of Reata and brings a touch of compassion and humanity to Reata and its people.
The leading man was also borrowed by Warner Brothers. Rock Hudson got his one and only Oscar nomination for this role. His character of Bick Benedict ages and grows in every way. Maybe because its Rock Hudson playing the part, but I think it's Hudson innate and underrated skill as a player that makes you know there's a latent decency that's eventually going to overcome the bad things he was brought up with.
Of course Giant marks the early tragic farewell of James Dean as player. In one terrible accident that claimed his life James Dean went from rebel actor to eternal legend. Jett Rink was the final piece of his performing career and only a hint of what we could have expected from him. He's a dirt poor ranch hand, as poor as the Mexicans, who mostly work at Reata, but he doesn't identify with them at all. When he strikes it oil rich, he's just put in a position where he can now inflict terrible things on those people he feels superior to.
When film fans talk about Giant they talk about the differences between Hudson and Dean. Hudson starts out rich and prejudiced, Dean is poor and prejudiced. Dean strikes it rich and becomes an oil billionaire, but it's brought him no happiness, just richer surroundings to be miserable in. The difference is that Hudson had Taylor and the children they both had. Their lives together, Taylor's love and devotion and his children's respectful rebellion made him see things differently and grow as a person. If Dean had an Elizabeth Taylor, things might have worked out better for him in a personal sense.
George Stevens won the only Oscar that Giant got that year, for Best Director. The all-star extravaganza Around the World in 80 Days won for Best Picture, though I think Giant has stood the test of time a lot better. Then again Stevens had an Edna Ferber epic story to work from and as I said before, you can't ever go wrong with one of her stories.
What can I say? George Steven's Giant is a prototype for what a classic epic film should be like. It takes time to develop its two main characters, and it does a good job of examining the social milieu and environment (Texas) that the characters inhabit. Rock Hudson's performance reminds me of Richard Burton's in the underrated Joseph Mankiewiek's film Cleopatra, and indeed, there are many parallels (which I won't go into) between Rock Hudson's character and Marc Anthony. Similarly, Elizabeth Taylor's character in Giant (radiant and wonderful as usual) resembles Cleopatra in many ways. One can argue that Giant is the story of Anthony and Cleopatra transported to Texas. And it's almost heartbreaking to see James Dean in his last performance. . . the flow of generations, the gaps between the older and the newer generations, the passing on off dreams by ancestors, the influence of the dead on the living, tradition versus modernity, the lasting and ever-changing nature of love. . . these are all issues which Giant addresses eloquently and majestically. Oh, and there is a ten-minute section in Giant which has got to be one of the best cinematic passages I have ever seen. In this passage, without the use of and sound or music, George Steven's portrays death and rebirth through the generations. . . it's nothing short of astonishing!
By the time the vital theme of racial intolerance reaches its climax in
this plodding melodrama, the audience has endured three hours of
stilted dialogue and overblown acting. The film's most dynamic
performers are either gone too soon (Mercedes McCambridge) or come too
late (Dennis Hopper) to compensate for its morass of mediocrity
(Hudson) or ineptitude (Dean). Elizabeth Taylor, enduring some of the
worst ageing make-up ever seen in a seriously-intentioned Hollywood
movie, somehow emerges with her dignity intact.
It's difficult to make a picture convincing when its story has to traverse as many years as GIANT. SHOWBOAT, also from a Ferber novel, has the same problem. It does, however, have songs to save it. No such luck here. Attempts by composer Dimitri Tiomkin to give grandeur to what's on offer do the reverse: the harder he works, the worse it gets. This is particularly sad when considering William C. Mellor's outstanding photography - by far the greatest pleasure that GIANT has to offer.
It doesn't give me any joy at all to write so disparagingly about a film which deals with such important issues as envy, greed, pride and intolerance. Director George Stevens was clearly a humane man who brought a great sensitivity to his work - his previous movie was, after all, the lean and unpretentiously powerful SHANE. Unfortunately, with GIANT, the intractability of his source material and the unevenness of his cast defeated his good intentions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The opening of the movie sets the viewer up for a bit of a shock later
on; all those lush rolling green fields of Maryland give way to a
desolate and bizarrely placed Gothic mansion in the middle of a Texas
desert. One wonders what Leslie Benedict REALLY thought, because she
never let on that this might have been a mistake. But they say love is
blind, even if marriage is an eye opener. For my part, I was left
wondering what the cattle ate out there to stay nourished, they
certainly looked healthy. But of course, that wasn't the point. "Giant"
was one of the earliest epic bordering films to examine racial
intolerance and present a strong independent woman, and the scenes that
play to those sentiments are the best in the story.
I had only the faintest of knowledge about the film, generally cited as a final showcase for one of it's stars, James Dean. What surprised me the most was the presence of such a fine supporting cast behind Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. Mercedes McCambridge excels with limited screen time as Bick's (Hudson) manly sister, while Carroll Baker and Dennis Hopper appear as the adult Benedict heirs, each off in their own direction to the consternation of their father. It's always interesting to see Dennis Hopper, especially in very young early roles, to see how he developed his chameleon like ability to morph into virtually any type of characterization.
It's fair to say that the movie's three plus hours virtually flies by, and one wonders how long it could have gone if the film hadn't lopped off years between scenes. On the flip side, that might also be the picture's greatest downside. Even though continuity is never lost, it's somewhat disorienting to see a family age by almost a decade at a clip, as there was plenty of room for additional character development in between. That's probably why more than once I thought that the picture might have benefited from a serialization of sorts, along the lines of say, "Dallas", other similarities notwithstanding. Is there any way to overlook the connection between Jett Rink's (Dean) prominent initials and those of the eldest son of the Ewing clan?
The movie ties up a lot of connections by the time it's over, like Jordy's (Hopper) 'Country Doctor' medical kit and his adult life's ambition. The best though came near the finale when Hudson's character Bick Benedict transcends his chauvinistic and bigoted past to take on the proprietor of 'Sarge's Place'. It was the redeeming moment worth waiting for, set to martial music and inviting the viewer to cheer on the man who was getting his butt whipped. It's a scene that best captures the spirit of "Giant", as if defining each of it's principal players as a giant in their own right.
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