The most iconic of James Dean’s 3 major roles, after East of Eden and before Giant, sees him inspiring numerous Eagles songs as Jim Stark, the new kid in a small town, eager to butt against any system willing to oppose him. He takes a shine to Judy, the girl of gang leader Buzz, and finds troubled social outcast Jon, calling himself Plato, takes more than a shine to Jim. A young Dennis Hopper plays one of the gang members – who I was half expecting to start clicking and dancing to Officer Krupke at some points, but thankfully this was not the case.
Before watching it, I only knew of Giant as being the last James Dean film. I’d seen Rebel Without a Cause recently, and been thoroughly underwhelmed, so had high hopes for Giant, as surely this, or perhaps East of Eden, were the reason that Dean is now such a cult icon, a supposedly defining character for a generation. Also, by looking at the cover for this film, I expected Dean to be the star of the film, his image appearing no less than five times on the cover, with Elizabeth Taylor appearing just once, and Rock Hudson not at all. It was with some surprise then that I found the stars to be Hudson and Taylor, with Dean a supporting character (granted, the most important supporting character, but supporting no less).
Having now watched the film, it shall be filed alongside the previously reviewed the Jazz Singer as an important film, just not a great one, though this time for being the last film of James Dean, rather than the first feature length to include audible dialogue. Giant documents the life of a young couple, Hudson and Taylor, from the day they meet and through the next 25 years of their lives. Even with an epic run time of almost three and a half hours, the plotting is generally fast, with major events such as their marriage and the birth of their children skipped over, pausing to show the more landmark occasions, for example the dismay of Hudson’s Jordan Benedict as Jordy, his son, cries when set upon his first horse. Along the way, Jordan’s life is besieged at every turn by Dean’s Jett Rink, a ranchhand who, upon inheriting a small patch of land, becomes a billionaire when he strikes oil. Dean overacts to his heart’s content, failing to draw any compassion within his rags-to-riches arc.
There are two main points that I took from the tale. Firstly, that some things never change, and some things do. This seems a fairly pointless ethos, but shown in the films context takes some form, as the menfolk gather to discuss business as the times change around them, but Benedict’s initial negative feelings towards his Mexican ranchhands are subdued when his son, an excellent young Dennis Hopper, marries and produces a son, both Mexican and Benedict. Secondly, the film shows the dramatic effect a small act, in this case purchasing a horse, can have on the rest of your life. So, essentially, Giant is the Butterfly Effect without the nosebleeds.
Choose film 6/10