Giant (1956 film)

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Giant
Giant Poster.gif
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by
  • George Stevens
  • Henry Ginsberg
Screenplay by
Based on Giant
1952 novel 
by Edna Ferber
Starring
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography William C. Mellor
Edited by
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • October 10, 1956 (1956-10-10) (New York City)
  • November 24, 1956 (1956-11-24) (United States)
Running time
201 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5.4 million[1]
Box office $39 million[1]

Giant is a 1956 American Warner Color drama film, directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean and features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Elsa Cardenas and Earl Holliman. Giant was the last of James Dean's three films as a leading actor, and earned him his second and last Academy Award nomination – he was killed in a car accident before the film was released. Nick Adams was called in to do some voice dubbing for Dean's role.

In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Plot[edit]

The movie follows a Texas family over a quarter century from the 1920s until after World War II. Themes of discrimination (race, class and gender) are prominent and recurring undertones.

In the 1920s, Jordan "Bick" Benedict, Jr. (Rock Hudson), head of a wealthy Texas ranching family, travels to Maryland to buy War Winds, a horse he is planning to put out to stud. There he meets and courts socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), who ends a budding relationship with British diplomat Sir David Karfrey (Rod Taylor) and marries Bick after a whirlwind romance.

They return to Texas to start their life together on the family ranch, Reata, where Bick's older spinster sister Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge) runs the household. Luz resents Leslie's presence and attempts to intimidate her. Leslie meets Jett Rink (James Dean), a local handyman who works for Luz (and whom Bick despises) and hopes to find his fortune by leaving Texas. Jett becomes secretly infatuated with Leslie.

As Leslie spends time becoming acclimated to the harsh Texas heat, once nearly passing out, she discovers on a car ride with Jett that the Mexican workers' living conditions in the local town are terrible. After tending to Angel Obregon II, one of the Mexican children, she presses Bick to take steps to improve their condition. This starts a theme concerning Texans' attitudes towards Mexicans in general.

When riding Leslie's beloved horse, War Winds, Luz expresses her hostility for Leslie by cruelly digging in her spurs. Luz dies after War Winds bucks her off. In her will, Jett is bequeathed a small piece of land on the Benedict ranch. Bick tries to buy back the land, but Jett refuses to sell. Jett makes the land his home and names it Little Reata. Over the next ten years, Leslie and Bick have twins, Jordan "Jordy" Benedict III (Dennis Hopper as a teenager and young adult) and Judy Benedict (Fran Bennett as an adult), and later have a daughter they name Luz Benedict II (Carroll Baker as an adult).

After spurning the Benedict family's fair offer to buy the land, Jett discovers traces of oil in a footprint of Leslie's. He drills in the same spot and hits a gusher. Drenched in oil, he drives to the Benedict front yard covered in oil and proclaims to the family and their guests that he will be richer than the Benedicts. Jett next acts inappropriately towards Leslie, and this leads to a brief fistfight with Bick before he quickly drives off. In the years preceding World War II, Jett's oil drilling company continues to prosper. Determined to continue as a cattle rancher like his forefathers, Bick rejects several offers to drill for oil on Reata.

Tensions in Bick's and Leslie's household revolve around their children. Bick insists that Jordy must succeed him and run the ranch, as his father and grandfather did before him – but Jordy wants to become a doctor. Leslie wants Judy to attend finishing school in Switzerland, but Judy loves the ranch, wants to study animal husbandry at Texas Tech, and falls in love with a local cow hand, Bob Dace. Both children succeed in pursuing their own vocations, each asking one parent to convince the other to let them have their way. Bick then tries to interest Dace, now his son-in-law (Judy's husband), to work on the ranch after he returns from the war but he refuses. Jett arrives and persuades Bick to allow oil production on his land, using the pretext that this will help the war effort. Realizing that his children will not take over the ranch when he retires, Bick agrees. Both Bick and Jett show evidence of a drinking problem. Luz II, now in her teens, starts flirting with Jett.

Once oil production starts on the ranch, the wealthy Benedict family becomes even wealthier and more powerful, as evidenced by the installation of a new swimming pool next to the house which is seen attended by a senator. Now a young man, Angel (Sal Mineo) joins the army but gets killed in the war, and his body is shipped home for burial.

After the war ends in 1945, the Benedict–Rink rivalry continues, coming to a head when the Benedicts discover that Luz II and the much older Jett have been dating. At a huge party given by Jett in his own honor at Jett's hotel in nearby Austin, Jordy's wife of Mexican descent, Juana (Elsa Cárdenas), is racially insulted by hotel staff. An irate Jordy tries to start a fight with Jett. Jett's goons hold Jordy, Jett punches him repeatedly and then has him escorted out. Fed up, Bick challenges Jett to a fight. Drunk and almost incoherent, Jett leads the way to a wine storage room. Seeing that Jett is in no state to defend himself, Bick lowers his fists, and instead topples Jett's wine cellar shelves creating a very loud crash heard by the entire assembly. The Benedict family leaves the party. Jett staggers into the banquet hall drunk, takes his seat of honor then passes out on the table. All the guests leave. Later, Luz II sees Jett recovering from his drunken stupor, talking to an empty room, and disclosing that he really wanted her mother, implying strongly that his interest in Luz II is really a displaced interest in Leslie.

The next day, the Benedicts are driving home via a back road and stop at a diner. The racist owner, Sarge (Mickey Simpson), insults Juana and her and Jordy's son Jordan IV. When the owner goes on to eject an old Mexican man and his family from the diner, Bick tells Sarge to leave them alone. This leads to a fistfight that Bick ends up losing which results in all of the Benedicts being thrown out of the diner, but his family members are proud of him for standing up to the burly owner.

In the final scene, back at the ranch, Bick and Leslie watch their two grandchildren, one biracial (Jordy and Juana's son), play in a crib and reflect on their life. Leslie tells Bick that she considered him to be her hero for the first time in her life after the fight in the diner, something he always tried to do with his ranching heroics. Reflecting on the Benedict family's legacy, Bick views it as a failure because their lives didn't turn out the way he planned, but Leslie considers their version of the family to be a success. The final shot pans to the face of each child, one white, one Hispanic, but both Texans.

Cast[edit]

Nick Adams recorded some of James Dean's dialogue after Dean's death.

Themes[edit]

The movie is an epic portrayal of a powerful Texas ranching family challenged by changing times and the coming of big oil.[2] A major subplot concerns the racism of Anglo-European Americans in Texas and the social segregation of Mexican Americans they enforce. In early segments of the film, Bick and Luz treat the Mexicans who work on their ranch condescendingly, which upsets the more socially-conscious Leslie. Bick eventually comes to realize the moral indefensibility of his racism—in a climactic scene at a roadside diner he loses a fistfight to the racist owner, but earns Leslie's respect for defending the human rights of his brown-skinned daughter-in-law and grandson. Another subplot involves Leslie's own striving for women's equal rights as she defies the patriarchal social order, asserting herself and expressing her own opinions when the men talk. She protests being expected to suppress her beliefs in deference to Bick's; this conflict leads to their temporary separation.[3]

The novel Giant is Edna Ferber's third work dealing with racism; the first was her 1926 novel Show Boat (which was adapted into the legendary Broadway musical in 1927); her second was the 1929 novel, Cimarron (adapted to film twice, in 1931 and 1960).

Production[edit]

Cast members and crew at work on the Reata mansion set. The Second-empire Victorian mansion facade designed by Boris Leven became an iconic image for the film.

The film begins with Jordan "Bick" Benedict, played by Hudson, arriving at Ardmore, Maryland, to purchase a stallion from the Lynnton family. The first part of the picture was actually shot in Albemarle County, Virginia, and used the Keswick, Virginia, railroad station as the Ardmore railway depot.[4] Much of the subsequent film, depicting "Reata", the Benedict ranch, was shot in and around the town of Marfa, Texas, and the remote, dry plains found nearby, with interiors filmed at the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank, California. The "Jett Rink Day" parade and airport festivities were filmed at the Burbank Airport.

Ferber's character of Jordan Benedict II and her description of the Reata Ranch were based on Robert "Bob" J. Kleberg, Jr. (1896-1974) and the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. Like the over half-million-acre Reata, King Ranch comprises 825,000 acres (3,340 km2; 1,289 sq mi) and includes portions of six Texas counties, including most of Kleberg County and much of Kenedy County, and was largely a livestock ranch before the discovery of oil. The fictional character Jett Rink was inspired partly by the extraordinary rags-to-riches life story of the wildcatter oil tycoon Glenn Herbert McCarthy (1907–1988). Author Edna Ferber met McCarthy when she was a guest at his Houston, Texas, Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955), the fictional Emperador Hotel in both the book and the film.

The Australian actor Rod Taylor was cast in one of his earliest Hollywood roles after being seen in an episode of Studio 57, "The Black Sheep's Daughter".[5]

Differences between the novel and film[edit]

Although the film adaptation closely follows the plot of the book, there are noticeable changes and additions to and from the source material. Ferber's story begins in medias res with the preparations for Jett Rink's celebratory dinner. In contrast to the film, the novel describes Jett as being a broad and beefy man whose sole motivation for becoming rich is to prove himself better than other Texans. His relationship with Leslie is also different in the book: Leslie considers him to be a horrible person, whereas the film has her coming to understand Jett for who he is. Jett's feelings for Leslie are more evident in the novel than in the film; at one point, he urges her to leave Bick for good. Whereas the novel has the diner scene, it is vastly different from the film, in which Bick challenges the racist owner Sarge and loses in a fistfight. Instead, the book does not have Bick present, and it ends with Leslie leaving the diner with her daughter and daughter-in-law.

Release[edit]

Giant premiered in New York City on October 10, 1956,[6] with the local DuMont station, WABD, televising the arrival of cast and crew, as well as other celebrities and studio chief Jack L. Warner[citation needed]. The picture was released to nationwide distribution on November 24, 1956.[6]

Capitol Records, which had issued some of Dimitri Tiomkin's music from the soundtrack (with the composer conducting the Warner Brothers studio orchestra) on an LP, later digitally remastered the tracks and issued them on CD, including two tracks conducted by Ray Heindorf. Both versions used a monaural blend of the multi-channel soundtrack recording.[citation needed]

Trivia[edit]

Stevens gave Hudson a choice between Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to play his leading lady, Leslie. Hudson chose Taylor.[7]

Giant was Barbara Barrie's first film; she had an uncredited role as "Mary Lou Decker".

After James Dean's death late in production, Nick Adams overdubbed some of Dean's lines, which were nearly inaudible, as Rink's voice.[8] George Stevens had a reputation as a meticulous film editor, and the film spent an entire year in the editing room.[9]

Reception[edit]

Giant won praise from both critics and the public, and according to the Texan author, Larry McMurtry, was especially popular with Texans, even though it was sharply critical of Texan society.[2] Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote that "[George Stevens] takes three hours and seventeen minutes to put his story across. That's a heap of time to go on about Texas, but Mr. Stevens has made a heap of film." and 'Giant', for all its complexity, is a strong contender for the year's top-film award."[10]

Variety's "Hift" claimed that Giant was "for the most part, an excellent film which registers strongly on all levels, whether it's in its breathtaking panoramic shots of the dusty Texas plains; the personal, dramatic impact of the story itself, or the resounding message it has to impart."[11]

The film received a 97% positive rating on the film-critics aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.[12] TV Guide gave the film its maximum of four stars, saying of James Dean's performance "This was the last role in Dean's all-too-brief career – he was dead when the film was released – and his presence ran away with the film. He performs his role in the overwrought method manner of the era, and the rest of the cast seems to be split between awe of his talent and disgust over his indulgence."[13]

Box office[edit]

The movie earned $12 million in rentals in North America during its initial release.[14] It was one of the biggest hits of the year in France, with admissions of 3,723,209.[15]

Accolades[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

Giant won the Academy Award for Best Director and was nominated nine other times, twice for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Dean and Rock Hudson). The other nominations came in the categories of Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge); Best Art Direction–Set Decoration, Color (Boris Leven, Ralph S. Hurst); Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; Best Picture; and Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted.[16]

Other honors[edit]

American Film Institute recognition

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Miller, Frank. ".:: TCM Presents: The Essentials - Article::.". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 13, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b McMurtry, Larry (September 29, 1996). "Men Swaggered, Women Warred, Oil Flowed". New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "Giant: Summary and Notes". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 20 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Maurer, David. "Giant effort to make it in movies". Daily Progress. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2012. 
  5. ^ Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Australian in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media, 2010 p49
  6. ^ a b Perry, George (2011). James Dean (paperback ed.). Bath, 1956. U.K.: Palazzo. pp. 227, 233. ISBN 978-095-649-427-6. 
  7. ^ "Giant: Summary and Notes". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 20 August 2012. According to modern and contemporary sources, Grace Kelly was sought for the role of Leslie Benedict. Modern sources claim that once her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco was announced, however, M-G-M decided not to loan her out for Giant. Elizabeth Taylor, who ultimately received the highly desirable role, was also under to M-G-M, which loaned her out to Warner Bros. Modern sources also claim that Hudson, when given the choice of his leading lady by Stevens, chose Taylor. 
  8. ^ Perry, p. 201.
  9. ^ Perry, p. 200.
  10. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 11, 1956). "Movie Review: Giant (1956). Screen: Large Subject; The Cast". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Hift" (October 10, 1956). "Giant (Review)". Variety. 
  12. ^ "Giant (1956)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Giant (1956)". TV Guide. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  14. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p. 34
  15. ^ French box office information for 1957 at Box Office Story
  16. ^ "Giant (1956): Awards". All Media Guide via The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 

External links[edit]