Saturday, July 2, 2011

No. 82: Giant

Readers, let me tell you something: I like the films of director George Stevens. I like Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and I especially like James Dean. I like melodrama and “epic” style. So why didn’t today’s film - AFI No. 82, Giant - appeal to me? Well, there are reasons. A long, negative list of reasons.

Negatives aside, I’ll give you the standard briefing. Directed by the usually-fabulous George Stevens and starring Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, Giant (1956) clocks in at almost three hours. I nearly turned it off around the two-and-a-half mark, but showed remarkable strength and left it on. I’m proud of myself.

Conservative Texas rancher Jordan Benedict (Hudson) meets and marries the spirited Leslie (Taylor). The film chronicles their family’s rivalry with Jett Rink (Dean) - Jordan’s former ranch hand who made his own fortune in oil. Years pass, and when the now wealthy-and-sleazy Jett starts dating Jordan and Leslie’s grown daughter, old tensions flare again. More family drama: when the Benedict’s only son chooses to marry a Mexican woman, Jordan must confront his conservative nature. Eventually Jett gets his comeuppance, Jordan overcomes his prejudice, and all ends well.

No, I didn’t like Giant – but it has its good points. The best part of the film was easily James Dean. And I’m not just saying that because he’s adorable and he’s my computer wallpaper. The energy and charisma in his performance show exactly why, even though he starred in only three films, he’s still an icon today. In Giant, Dean made his character seem raw and pitiable one moment, abruptly greedy and power-hungry the next. The film also featured a supporting cast filled with then up-and-coming great actors, like Dennis Hopper, (delightfully angsty) Sal Mineo, and Carroll Baker.

And now, the not-so-good points.

1) Giant was advertised as “the next Gone With The Wind.” I don’t know who came up with that. Giant is like a bad GWTW with cattle.

2) It’s far too long. I have no problem with long movies - the aforementioned GWTW is one of my favorites. But Giant was much longer than necessary and honestly, I might have enjoyed it more if the editors had used sharper scissors.

3) Not all the acting is great. I love both Rock and Liz, but their performances were a little wooden. Liz isn’t very convincing in chaps and a cowboy hat, and for most of the film, Rock manages to make his character wholly unlikeable.

4) My biggest issue: the film didn’t live up to my expectations. When they name an epic melodrama Giant you expect it to be, well - giant? It wasn’t over-the-top enough to be epic, and not cozy enough for small-scale drama. George Stevens could have used a touch of David Selznick or a bit of John Ford; it felt like he didn’t know which direction to take the film.

And thus ends my thoroughly negative review. My next post promises to be far more positive - AFI No. 81, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). I love that movie. Love love love. Stick around and read about it!


  1. "I might have enjoyed it more if the editors had used sharper scissors" is a line for the ages—love that. And how well it could be applied to so many things. I like a good negative review, and this is one. Well done.

  2. I too enjoy a good movie slam. Still, good sets and good clothes - and James Dean.