Tuesday, March 22, 2022

#2,727. Giant (1956) - The Men Who Made the Movies


One of the taglines for George Stevens’ award-winning movie Giant screams “The Legendary Epic That’s as Big as Texas!”. This 1956 film is certainly that. A sprawling, gorgeous motion picture about a cattle rancher and his family coming to terms with a changing world, Giant is a mountain of a movie.

While purchasing a horse in Maryland, Texas rancher Jordan Benedict (Rock Hudson) - called “Bick” by his friends - meets and falls in love with East Coast socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor). The two eventually marry and head to Reata, Bick’s cattle ranch, which stands on over half a million acres of the great state of Texas.

Though impressed with the grandness of her new home, Leslie also finds herself an outsider, butting heads with Bick’s stern sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) and shocked at how poorly the Benedicts and their friends treat their Mexican employees, who live in poverty.

As the years pass, Bick’s and Leslie’s family grows, and though determined to hold on to tradition, Bick soon finds himself at the mercy of former employee and current millionaire Jett Rink (James Dean), who took a small parcel of land smack dab in the middle of Reata and turned it into a thriving oil business.

Giant is an epic in every sense of the word. Beautifully shot by cinematographer William C. Mellor, who somehow manages to make the sparse Texas landscape come alive, Giant also has one hell of a cast. Hudson and Taylor are at their best as the loving, headstrong couple who seldom see eye-to-eye, while James Dean, in what would prove to be his final role, damn near steals the show, giving us in Jett Rink a character we root for early on, and come to despise as the story progresses.

Equally as impressive are McCambridge as Bick’s tough-as-nails sister; Chill Wills as Bick’s kindly uncle Bawley; and Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker as Bick's and Leslie’s adult children, both of whom experience the pitfalls of being a Benedict. Also turning up briefly are Rod Taylor as an early suitor of Leslie’s and Sal Mineo as Angel, the son of one of Bick’s Mexican workers, who is sent off to fight in World War II.

While the main thrust of the story focuses on the Benedicts and how the incursion of oil drilling changed the Texas landscape, Giant also takes aim at bigotry. Soon after arriving at Reata, Leslie takes a great interest in the local Mexican population, and is horrified to learn that while she and Bick live comfortable lives, others only a mile or two away are dying of hunger. Leslie does what she can to help these employees, going so far as to have a doctor brought in to tend to them on a regular basis, despite the fact Bick has flat-out forbidden her to get involved (there are scenes where he refers to his Mexican employees as “those people”).

George Stevens would go on to make the exceptional The Diary of Anne Frank and the bloated The Greatest Story Ever Told, but Giant would be his final masterpiece. It is a prime example of a Hollywood movie done right, and a motion picture that remains, to this day, an undisputed classic.
Rating: 10 out of 10

No comments: