Sunday, April 15, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Giant (1956) ****

NR, 201 min.
Director: George Stevens
Writers: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat, Edna Ferber (novel)
Starring: Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Earl Holliman, Fran Bennett, Charles Watts, Elsa Cardenas, Victor Millan

George Steven’s “Giant” is a movie about America. That’s as simply as it can be put. It’s about how modern America was formed, how it was shaped. How we struggled against change that was inevitable and progressive. But, it shows how we prevail through these struggles, how our basic goodness wins us over through time.

It stars three Hollywood icons in roles that pushed them. Save for Elizabeth Taylor’s basically good role, it may have been difficult for the male leads to agree to theirs. Rock Hudson’s cattle baron has the most struggles. He is the representation of America as a whole. He’s the paragon of capitalism. He experiences a whirlwind romance. His marriage isn’t what he imagined. His kids don’t turn out the way he plans. He is a racist, but he works on it, though not consciously. In the end, he builds himself a pretty good life that has little to do with his money. This is the real American dream.

James Dean’s star was rising before his premature departure from this mortal coil before this movie was even released. He had appeared as a bright young thing in two previous movies. In this movie, he takes the role of a loser ranch hand who becomes an oil tycoon yet somehow remains a loser. Much of his role is done in age make up and he seems perpetually drunk. His agent must’ve protested. Sure this was a huge production that was bound to be even higher profile than either of his other two films, but this villain of sorts isn’t anything flashy. He’s rather pathetic.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that so clearly seems to understand how we evolve as a society, and it does so in an entirely indirect way. In the guise of a family generational drama, it depicts how we live in our comforts and hide behind them when challenged with change. The best of us eventually progress, and those are the people who ultimately shape our world.

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