Friday, October 12

Giant: Favorite Movie #25

1956 Drama
From Warner Bros
Directed by George Stevens

Elizabeth Taylor
Rock Hudson
James Dean
Carroll Baker
Mercedes McCambridge
Earl Holliman
Dennis Hopper
Chill Wills
Jane Withers
Sal Mineo
Paul Fix
Rod Taylor
Judith Evelyn
Fran Bennett
Elsa Cardenas
Alexander Scourby
Charles Watts
Carolyn Craig
Mickey Simpson

On the day of the Oscarcast in 1957, honoring films from 1956, a married couple was tearing around their rented Bel Air estate, trying to get themselves ready.  Timeliness would always be a problem, especially for her.  Maids, butlers, valets, publicists and hairdressers, either in singular or plural, were adding to the mayhem.  He was a bombastic, loud, vulgar, bigtime Hollywood producer and his film, Around the World in 80 Days, was up for best picture.  She was usually considered to be Hollywood's most beautiful actress and her film, Giant, was up for best picture and she was up for best actress as well. 

They were, of course, Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor and she threw him an occasional air kiss as she ran through the large home, highball in hand.  He patted her ass or goosed her as she whizzed by and she pretended she didn't like it and that his actions were causing further delays.

Nervousness filled that house.  In the spirit of putting the marriage first over individual needs, they made nice-nice by saying they hoped the other's picture won.  Privately, she was banking more on winning the best actress award because she hadn't won yet.  He, on the other hand, was as loud and noisy as he always was about his picture winning.  The countless ads on the tube, the radio and theaters advised us that Around the World in 80 Days was the best film we were ever lucky enough to see.  He Barnum and Bailey'ed the Hollywood folk until, um... until they gave him the bloody Oscar.  What...?!?!  That silly, piece-of-crap movie won best picture over Giant, for God's sake?  Another of Oscar's great injustices.

This film is not only a very, very good one, it is a famous one on so many levels.  It is worthy of one of my quizzes (hmmmm) all by itself.  There is trivia galore on the making of Giant.

Based on the epic novel by Edna Ferber and as in a number of her other works, the characters' lives are spanned over a lifetime.  A Texas cattleman who owns half a million acres journeys to Maryland to buy a spirited black stallion for $10,000 and comes back with the horse and its equally spirited owner as his wife.

Through the years they love and fight and have three children and become richer on oil.  Their large home is full of friends and relatives and hangers-on and talk of business and politics and racial prejudice fills the manly dark rooms.  The film is to be commended in my opinion for tackling the racial issue so well.  Its 3-hour and 21-minute length shows a dusty, hot Texas where men are men and women know their places... that is until Leslie (Taylor) arrives.  There is a wonderful scene where Jordan (Hudson) and his cronies are talking "men's talk" and Leslie naively tries to join them and is rebuffed.  She's told to not worry her pretty head and she hisses don't you mean my pretty empty head?  She calls her adversaries cavemen and her angry, embarrassed husband tells her she's tired.

Once Jordan calls it a night and joins a sleeping Leslie in the bedroom, he intentionally awakens her so they can argue.  It is a wonderful scene of accusations and pouting and love and forgiveness.

Leslie has a tender scene with Jett Rink (Dean) while he serves her tea in his dirty little shack on a dinky little piece of property that will soon turn him into a multi-millionaire.  I wish Dean and Taylor had had more scenes together or better yet made another film together, but we know how that played out. 

Two scenes on the front porch particularly stand out, each featuring a large number of the cast members.  The first is when testosterone-laden Jordan wants his son to ride a pony and the little tyke would rather play with his doctor toys.  Next is when Jett strikes oil while covered in it he storms the front porch to rub it in his ex-boss' face and they come to blows.

While the bejeweled and tuxedoed Texans are gathered in a hotel suite to await honoring Jett's grand opening of the hotel, there is a an explosion of tempers between Jordan and Leslie and then Jordy Jr. (Hopper) becomes inflamed when his wife is refused service in a hotel beauty parlor because of her Mexican ethnicity.

Everyone who's seen Giant remembers the glorious fight scene at Sarge's Diner after Sarge refuses sevice to a Mexican family and Jordan gets the crap beaten out of him just when he's come around on his own prejudices.

How far he's come is shown in the film's touching final scene when Leslie and Jordan sit on their big leather sofa reminiscing.  She says she knows he always wanted to be her hero and she was never so proud of him as when he was on the floor at Sarge's among the broken dirty dishes.  He says, bristling with pride, that he will never understand her.  He understands he married well.  They look lovingly at their two handsome grandsons, one blond and blue-eyed, the other brown-skinned, in the same playpen looking back their grandparents, and we know the Benedicts have come a long way and will continue to live as giants.

Elizabeth Taylor was always a very good actress if she had a great director to guide her.  She had worked for director Stevens before in A Place in the Sun, one of her finest films.  Giant would be her first Oscar nomination and she would get more nominations in the next four years for Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, and then a win for BUtterfield 8Giant started a long run for Taylor being taken seriously as an actress.

As spectacular as Taylor is as Leslie Benedict, she was not the first one considered for the role.  Grace Kelly was one of the earliest contenders for the role that most actresses coveted.

Kelly's former boyfriend, William Holden, was a name tossed around for Jordan Benedict, the role that ultimately went to Rock Hudson.  It would turn out to be the best thing he ever did.  He had been around Hollywood for 7-8 years making a lot of colorful programmers.  When great attention was focused on Hudson for his turn in Magnificent Obsession, he was rewarded with Giant.

There were three lead characters in this epic film and the third was named Jett Rink.  Alan Ladd almost had the part but backed out, I believe, because it wasn't the central character.  Never a very confident person, he thought playing Jett Rink might result in a future of second leads.  Just as another picture put Hudson in the producer's mind, two films and a lot of Hollywood talk brought James Dean the role.  I don't think either East of Eden or Rebel Without a Cause had been released when he began filming Giant, but the bosses likely got a private showing and were as transfixed as much as most young people would become.

This was only Dean's third major film.  He was magnificent in the first two and I liked him very much in the first half of Giant, as the younger Jett.  But I think the film's only serious flaw is his acting in the second half.  He never convinced me as an older man and I thought his drunk scenes bordered on embarrassing.  And of course his short career ended on that note.  Too bad.

I have always loved the Taylor-Hudson-Dean triumvirate but admit to wondering how it all would have looked with Grace Kelly, William Holden and Alan Ladd. 

George Stevens had a long, distinguished Hollywood career.  Many of his films were famous and highly lauded.  He made Shane just before Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank after it.  In the 1940s he was responsible for helming Penny Serenade, Woman of the Year, The Talk of the Town and The More the Merrier

(The above is Leslie leaning against the living room wall listening to the macho males drone on.  I loved this hairstyle so much that years later I asked my wife to duplicate it which she did to my utter pleasure.  Damn, why did I divorce her?  Oh yes, I remember...)

Giant was a happy three-month shoot in Marfa, Texas.  Taylor, the house mother to all gay men, was happy because she was costarring with at least four of them.  She loved Hudson his whole life and she and Dean got on famously.  Dean and Hudson were wary of one another; they were way different types of actors and they conducted their private lives markedly different.  Dean also sparred occasionally with director Stevens over interpretations of characterization and Dean's impatience with Stevens' methodical ways.  Dean aside, the cast and crew loved George Stevens.  Most have said they longed to do good work for him, to make him proud.  I think they succeeded.

Everything about Giant is, well, giant.  Big cast, big house, big attitudes, big vistas, big length.  It has big music, too.  Dimitri Tiomkin, who knew a little something about triumphant movie scores, outdid himself with Giant.  It certainly contributed to the overall effect of the film, which became the biggest, most financially successful film in the history of Warner Bros. at the time.

Here's a look:

Review of Argo

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