Giant, directed by George Stevens, is all about contrasts—the supposed magnanimity of the liberal east vs. parched, bigoted Texas. A mammoth potboiler, just like Edna Ferber’s novel, but over the years it has acquired huge cult status, due, first, to James Dean having died shortly after completing his scenes; second, to Stevens’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s upper echelon moviemakers; third, to Rock Hudson and Dean and their closeted homosexuality; fourth, to Elizabeth Taylor, who befriended Hudson and Dean because she was, though she might not have known it yet by urban jargon, moviedom’s most beautiful, compassionate fag hag. Taylor is the picture’s best asset; with a needed measure of fatherly guidance by Stevens, she’s charming and feisty as a pre-feminist not about to let her Texan hubby or his dyke sister (Mercedes McCambridge) push her around. She was very comfortably relaxed as Angela Vickers in Stevens’ A Place in the Sun; here, she’s going for a full stretch—aging thirty years before the camera—and doing it with warmth, a sense of purpose. (She also does an amusing variation of Scarlett’s “morning after.”) One major weakness—the makeup. No way it’s convincing—it wasn’t back when the film was released in 1956 and it’s a hoot today. You want to swear that you can see Gordon Bau (the makeup supervisor) spraying or shaking powdered gray on the wigs and refreshing aging lines around the eyes between takes. You also recall every bad high school play you sat through when watching Taylor (at 23) commiserating with her soon-to-be adult daughter Carroll Baker (at 24). Hudson looks the size of Texas standing next to nearly everyone else, and Dean, initially interesting, becomes increasingly smaller and more vexing in a part his method acting is not suited for. Assessing the novel, Stevens said, “it’s interested in small things, smaller than usual because the background is so vast,” and Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat obliged with an episodic script matching most of the characters’ small-mindedness without sparing the pejorative. Considering today’s “build the wall” hysteria, Stevens would never get away with that very last image. The movie is still a great party game: how many themes are Stevens, Guiol and Moffat trying to pack in? With Rod Taylor, Sal Mineo, Earl Holliman, Dennis Hopper and Chill Wills playing the Benedict organ funereally (it takes three hours and 13 minutes before Hudson complains about it). In Chicago, the movie was not given the hardticket treatment. Filmed in Spherical.
Oscar win for best direction. Oscar nominations for best picture, actor (Hudson and Dean), supporting actress (McCambridge), screenplay—adapted, color art direction (Boris Leven and Ralph Hurst), scoring for a dramatic or comedy picture (Dimitri Tiomkin), film editing, color costumes.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER (Revised 2/2019) All Rights Reserved.