Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor
Written by: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat, based on the novel by Edna Ferber
Directed by: George Stevens
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 201
Date: 10/10/1956

Giant (1956)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Tall Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This may be the tallest movie ever made. It's an enormous epic, but it does not use widescreen. Director George Stevens captured the vast space of Texas by using height, not width. It's fascinating to watch. It tells a lengthy story, a story of times changing, and the landscape changing, for better or worse.

With Giant, Rock Hudson graduated from the B-list to major playerdom. He's good in the role of "Brick," the cow baron who ages 40 years in three and a half hours. Good, but not great. The fact is, James Dean is in this movie, and he leaves everyone in his dust. Imagine the idea of casting Dean and the hyper-dramatized scenery chewer Mercedes McCambridge in the same film.

James Dean has become a legend that is inescapable, even 40 years after his death. But he was also a tremendous actor. On his best day, he could go head to head with Marlon Brando. He reminds one of a young Pacino or De Niro, full of juice and so in control of the screen that he's high on his own power, and it makes him all the more interesting. Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking was as good as James Dean: tremendously physical, totally unafraid of bearing their souls and their most cautious moments. We're very lucky that Dean finished three interesting movies in his lifetime, and for my money one great one: Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause.

Dean is too good for Giant, which is not to say that this is a bad movie. George Stevens set up each shot for maximum impact, actors in shadows, framed in doorways, symbols in the background or foreground; it's a film student's dream. Stevens won the Best Director Oscar for Giant (an award that Mel Gibson, Tony Richardson and Delbert Mann have won, but that Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, or -- as of this writing -- Martin Scorsese, have not).

Dean's best scene has him covered in oil, just as Jett Rink's gusher has come in. He staggers, sways, smiles, and gloats at Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and the rest. They can do nothing but watch him, and you can see it in their faces that they're not sure what he's going to do. Is he going to run in the house and smear oil everywhere? Is he going to rub up against Taylor in her beautiful dress? He's like a firework spinning out of control on the ground, and everyone else is helpless.

Giant is big cheese. It's a soap opera that takes itself too seriously, but it contains wonderful treasures that shouldn't be missed. (For a great soap opera, check out another Rock Hudson movie from the same year, Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind).

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