Earlier this year, we passed by “Giant” at the TCM Film Festival because it is a three hour and twenty-one minute film that would have blocked out a couple of other things we were interested in. Lucky for us, the local Alamo Drafthouse scheduled a screening on this long weekend, so we did get a chance to see this George Stevens film on the big screen.
I have seen this film before but Amanda had not. The pairing of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor is a compelling enough reason to see the film. Add to the mix, James Dean’s final screen performance and his second posthumous Academy Award Nomination, and it becomes an essential for cinema buffs. I have always enjoyed the film but I have never thought it was as compelling as so many others seem to feel about it. Now that I live in Texas, I appreciated the first part of the story a lot more and the attitude that Texans have about the state is more relevant to me. Still, this is a big soap opera, with a little fantasy history and social consciousness weaved in to make it feel more significant.
Rock Hudson received his only Academy nomination for this film, and he probably deserved the acclaim for the movie, especially for the second half of the story. Bick Benedict is a headstrong traditionalist who clashes with his eastern bred wife over local politics and the condition of the Mexican workers who populate the large ranch they own. At times he sounds like one of those Southerners who argued for segregation because it was the culture, rather than racial animus that drove their opinions. His slightly inebriated acknowledgement that Angel Obregon, the Mexican kid who is joining the Army, is the best man on the ranch, illustrates that he is simply blind to how this tradition could be seen as prejudicial. His pious protestations about his daughter-in-law being a fine gal, gives way toward the end when he is forced to see the injustices being thrown her way simply because of her heritage. His character as the greatest attitude change in the story arc.
Elizabeth Taylor is fine in her role but the character is always a bit impertinent and forthright in her opinions. The best stretch of her performance is buried in the middle of the film during the couples brief separation. They still have problems when they are reunited, but you can see from her performance that Lesley feels those difficulties are surmountable once they are together again. James Dean was honored in a lead acting category, but his role is very secondary until the final act, and even there it is minimal. I did appreciate the early section where he is enamored of the new Mrs. Benedict, but he is constrained by the situation and her clear messages that she only has eyes for her husband. The visit to his small part of the ranch to share a cup of tea was his best scene in my opinion. I thought the drunken Jett of the last section was a little overdone.
I had forgotten that Rod Taylor was in this picture, and that is understandable since it is a very tertiary role. Dennis Hopper is incredibly young and a little wooden but he comes across quite sincerely. Chill Wills is in a much more familiar part here than he was in “The Deadly Companions” which I saw earlier this year for the Strother Martin Wednesday series I did this summer. It is a big cast and the movie looked great but it’s length was a bit much. “Lawrence of Arabia” is nearly twenty minutes longer, but never feels long to me. This felt quite padded at times. Still it was a great movie and great seeing it on the big screen.