Monday, November 19, 2018

"Giant" (1956)

I have a deep love for fish-out-of water stories.  This is probably because I often feel out-of-place myself, and have throughout my life.  Being a Christian, a conservative Lutheran, homeschooled,  a writer, a stay-at-home mom, a homeschool parent, loving classic books, loving old movies -- there always seems to be something about me that separates me from many of the people I come into contact with.

And because I'm pretty shy, that makes it hard to know quite how to deal with a lot of social situations.  I'm always the different one.  I'm always a little out-of-step.

Anyway, I think that sense of oddballness is probably what makes me love fish-out-of-water stories.  And that love is a big part of why Giant has been a favorite of mine basically all my life.  It contains layer after layer of stories about people who are out of place, out of step, out of their element.  Watching them navigate worlds where they don't fit in has helped me do the same.  Some of them learn to swim in their new world, and some... don't.  I've learned from all of them!

Giant begins with Jordan "Bic" Benedict (Rock Hudson), a wealthy Texas rancher, visiting a New England farm to buy an expensive horse from a gentleman farmer (Paul Fix).  Bic is broad, bulky, and feels somewhat out of place in this genteel, refined Eastern setting.  Hudson expertly conveys the feeling of a bewildered bull in a shop full of eggshell teacups.  He's gentlemanly and polite to a fault, but he doesn't really feel at ease.


Much of his unease stems from the gentleman's daughter Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), who is vivacious, bitingly witty, and fearless.  She ditches the British gent she'd intended to marry (Rod Taylor) without a qualm and pursues Bic Benedict so ruthlessly he's married to her before he can catch his breath.


But Bic isn't going to live in New England.  You can't take a Texan out of Texas for long.  (And if I was a Texan, you can bet that's where I'd stay too.  This movie is a huge part of why I adore the state, to be honest.)  Bic and Leslie take a liesurely train trip back to Texas by way of a honeymoon, and then it's Leslie's turn to be out of her element.

Bic lives in a gigantic house in the center of his gigantic ranch.  (This is a real set on location, not a matte painting.  The exterior is just a facade, though.  Interiors were shot elsewhere.)


His unmarried sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) runs the house with martial efficiency.  She's direct, bossy, and proud -- a mirror image of Leslie, all rough edges where Leslie is refined, the cowgirl opposite of the socialite.  She goes out of her way to show this eastern debutante just how out-of-place she is in the rowdy world of Texas.


At first, Leslie quails just a little.  She can't quite get a handle on how to fit in.


But then her inner ramrod straightens, and she turns herself into, as she terms it, a "tough Texian" through sheer willpower.  She's more than a match for her sister-in-law, and soon it's Luz who doesn't fit into this new world that Leslie is creating at the ranch.


Luz resents this so much, she brutalizes the horse Bic bought from Leslie's father, a horse Leslie loves dearly.  The horse (and through it, Leslie) triumphs, and Luz pays for her unwillingness to change with her life.


Leslie does not settle into the world of Texas, however.  She sets about creating her own version of it.  She befriends Jett Rink (James Dean), a poor ranch hand that Bic treats like trash, but whom Luz left a few acres in her will.  She takes an interest in the poor Hispanic workers who live on the ranch's fringes.


Leslie makes her own place in her new world, bending a little to fit it, but also bending it to fit herself.  She and Bic continue to clash over this periodically, but their differences in personality and lifestyle help each other more than they hurt.

Meanwhile, Jett Rink discovers oil on the little buffalo wallow that Luz bequeathed him.  He becomes rich overnight, entering a new world of his own.  The world of power and money and influence.  While Bic and Leslie raise their family, he raises oil rig after oil rig, eventually becoming wealthier than the Benedicts.


But money doesn't buy Jett happiness.  He longs for Leslie, the one person besides Luz who has ever shown him real kindness.  She's been gentle and sweet to him, no more friendly than she is to the other workers on the ranch, but to him, that's reason enough to put her on a pedestal.  Unable to ever attain his perfect woman, Jett becomes an alcoholic, lonely and sardonic, never fitting in with all the people from "old money" who still see him as white trash in a nice suit.  He can never have Leslie, but he sees in her daughter Luz (Carroll Baker) a version of Leslie he might be able to attain. 

Young Luz is as savvy as the aunt she was named for, and while she's polite to Jett Rink, she pities him, and he can't stand to be pitied.  Jett never finds a way to acclimate himself to the new world he moves in, and he crashes spectacularly as a result, metaphorically and literally.

Bic and Leslie's world changes as well.  Their other daughter, Judy (Fran Bennett), marries a small, modern rancher (Earl Holliman) and abandons the big home of her youth for a smaller world, telling her father that "big stuff is old stuff."  Their son, Jordan Benedict III (Dennis Hopper), becomes a doctor, not a rancher.  He marries a Hispanic woman named Juana (Elsa Cardenas), who must navigate the world of rich white people who look down at her, even refusing to serve her in the same hair salon as her mother-in-law Leslie.

Bic opposes the marriage at first, but ends up accepting that the world has changed around him and begins to figure out who he is within this modern Texas.  In my favorite scene of the whole film, he takes on a bigoted white man who insults Juana and her son, Jordan Benedict IV.  Though Bic loses the fist fight, he gains a sense of who he is.

The movie ends with Bic and Leslie, grey-haired, but not mellowed, babysitting their two grandchildren.  Leslie confides in Bic that he has never been more her hero than when he fought for Juana's honor, even though he lost.  Bic stares at her and says, "If I live to be ninety, I'm never going to figure you out."  Maybe not, but both he and Leslie have figured out who they are and how they fit in their world, which is what all fish-out-of-water must do to survive.

(I apologize for the screencaps abruptly ending midway through this post.  My DVD suddenly quit working, or my computer did -- I'm not sure which.  I'll try to add more photos later when I can get them.)


This has been my entry for the Rock Hudson Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood.  Follow either of the links in the previous sentence to read more entries into this blogathon!  Don't forget to check my sidebar to see what other blogathons I'll be participating in soon, including the one I'm co-hosting :-)

20 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating post.

    I know I can relate to feeling like a 'fish out of water' a lot of the time, too; although oddly enough that phrase never occurred to me to describe it??? I've always said "I feel like an ALIEN" or something similar. But yeah. Definitely get the feeling.

    Do you know what interests me most about this movie? The fact that it plays out over the course of so many years, and involves multiple generations. I LOVE STORIES THAT DO THAT. It is deeply satisfying to watch or read about, because it's like, yep, some of these family members will sink and some of them will swim, some will make good decisions and some bad--but life goes on. And the family overall (hopefully haha) continues to thrive.

    Also, I love the shot of the house. Looks like a cool house.

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    1. Jessica, glad I've interested you in the movie! This was one of the first movies where, instead of casting older actors and making them look younger for the earlier parts, they cast young actors and "aged" them as the film goes on. And they do it beautifully. I need to get a better disc so I can finish the photos for this.

      (True story: As a little kid, I thought that they filmed this movie over several decades because I was so convinced the actors were all legit getting older.

      I read the book too, and didn't care for it. Try the movie! It's got a lot of pretty stuff.

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  2. Such a lovely take on the film. I really enjoyed how you explained how much the film means to you personally. I also love that scene where Bic stands up for his daughter in law and grandson. I always cry when James Dean's character is all alone in that dining hall towards the end of the film. Really enjoyed reading this.

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    1. Thanks, Pale Writer! Glad you liked it. Growing up, Jett Rink was my favorite character, and I have definitely shed tears over him.

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  3. I've always been a little hesitant to give Giant a try. I don't know if it's because it's a drama (I generally prefer comedies/musicals), its long runtime, or James Dean (love him but watching him makes me sad because it just reminds me how quickly we lost him). However, your excellent post has made me realize that I'm probably missing out on something great and I just need to take the plunge the next time it pops up on TCM.

    Thanks for contributing to our blogathon!

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    1. Michaela, thanks for hosting!

      I really hope you give this a try. It's a little hard for me to judge how... dramatic this is? Because I grew up with it, it's just like a cozy few hours hanging out with people I've known all my life. This is my absolute favorite James Dean role, and he really shines here -- gets a lot of meaty scenes, and acts the heck outta them.

      But it IS sad knowing that he died just days after wrapping his last scenes. And I understand how that could make a fan avoid it. I have a similar problem with The Dark Knight. I did see it in the theater to honor Heath Ledger's memory and work, but I know I will never watch it again. Just too hard.

      Anyway, if you do give Giant a try, I hope you like it! If you remember, please stop by and let me know.

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  4. Thanks for that very personal and insightful review. It took me a while to realize that two of my all time favourite films, "Shane" and "Giant", were both directed by the great George Stevens. As for the cast, of course now we couldn't imagine anybody else playing the tragic figure of Jett Rink – tragedy on screen, tragedy in real life cuz Dean died in that fatal car crash before they had even finished shooting the film. In one of your replies you stated the fact that Stevens cast young actors and "aged" them as the film goes on. Well, had Stevens' first choice for the role of Jett Rink not turned down the part, the make-up department would have had the difficult job of first making the actor younger and later on making him "age". After Alan Ladd's great performance in Stevens' "Shane", the director offered him the Jett Rink part, but Ladd refused, because it was not the male leading role (although Bic Benedict and Rink have approximately the same amount of screen time). Ladd later said he regretted that decision ever after. Who knows? The part could have revived Ladd's faltering career and James Dean would perhaps have been able to make many more movies... But things didn't turn out that way and we can't change them. We can just lean back and enjoy "Giant"!

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    1. Andrea, I sometimes try to imagine Alan Ladd in the role of Jett Rink, and I just can't make it really work in my head. I don't think this is because Ladd would have been bad in the role, but simply because I grew up with this film, and I'm so used to James Dean as Jett Rink that I can't remove him from the role.

      But it's lovely to imagine what other roles Alan Ladd might have gotten in the late '50s if he'd taken this one!

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  5. Rachel, I totally agree, I can't really imagine Alan Ladd in that role either. That is, sometimes I try (thinking of the way Ladd could bring innate sadness and complexity to a role) – and fail, because that trio Hudson/Taylor/Dean is so ingrained in my head. It probably would have been a totally different movie. Speaking of trios, Stevens' first casting choice for "Shane" was Montgomery Clift (and Katherine Hepburn and William Holden as the Starretts). Clift certainly wouldn't have been bad in the role either, yet can anyone imagine anybody else than buckskin-clad Alan Ladd with his golden good looks and unique magnetism as the mysterious lone rider?
    I find it fascinating how movie roles and the charismatic actors that embody them become inseparable in our brains!

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    1. Andrea, I think some roles are just so exactly suited to a particular actor that you can't imagine them being separated. Alan Ladd must play Shane. Monty Clift is a lovely actor, but as Shane? No. And Hepburn and Holden as the Starretts? It would have been such a different picture. Have you ever read the book, by Jack Schaefer? It's got the same quiet, understated loveliness and pensiveness as the film.

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  6. Hi Rachel, this is Andrea again. I've decided I'm going to buy the Jack Schaefer book as a little Christmas present for myself! Right now, I am reading Marilyn Ann Moss' quite scholarly (but interesting) book about George Stevens "Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film". Nice and knowledgeable chapter in it about the making of "Shane" ("The Art of Gunslinging: 'Shane'") – and of course about Stevens' other movies, like "Giant" or "A Place in the Sun" (with first Shane casting choice Monty Clift). By the way, I'm going to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a blessed, peaceful Christmas and a healthy and successful New Year. Keep up the good work and keep us happy with your wonderful blogs! (Will have a very close look at your book blog, too, promise!!)
    Andrea

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    1. Andrea, that's a lovely idea! I hope you really enjoy reading Shane.

      I've not read Moss's book, but you're making me want to! I'll add it to my wish list.

      We had a lovely, quiet Christmas yesterday, and I'm looking forward to a quiet New Year celebration too. My favorite kind :-)

      I'm working on my end-of-the-year wrap-up posts on both blogs right now, and then plan to review Two Years Before the Mast, so more Alan Ladd content coming soon!

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  7. Wow, that's great, I like Alan Ladd in "Two Years before the Mast" (well, I basically like him in everything, so no surprise here...). I generally love movies with ships, and the sea (living in a landlocked country like Switzerland) – although they filmed "Two Years" on a soundstage on the Paramount studio lot... So what, I enjoyed the film anyway. (Poor Alan has to take off his shirt and gets several beatings, as usual...)
    Looking VERY much forward to your review!
    Am trying to get a DVD of "Giant" (quite a while since I last saw it).
    The "Shane" book is really lovely! The protagonist might not look like Alan Ladd (dark instead of blonde), but the character, gentle and energetic at the same time, is portrayed wonderfully and matches what we see in the film.
    Wishing you a nice quiet New Year celebration (my favourite kind, too)
    Andrea

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    1. Andrea, I'm the same -- so far, I've only disliked one Alan Ladd movie, One Foot in Hell. And even that one, I'll give a second chance, jut in case I end up liking it after all.

      And yes, poor Alan, always having to take his shirt off and/or get beaten. This is what happens when you're athletically inclined, but also very easy to sympathize with, I guess ;-)

      Yeah, the physical description of Shane is more a match for Monty Clift, so you can see why they wanted him in the role. But Alan Ladd just embodies him perfectly.

      My New Year's tradition for the last few years has been to watch a new-to-me Alan Ladd movie either on New Year's Eve or else the evening of New Year's Day. Haven't decided which one yet, but I do have several to choose from, so I'm enjoying the selection process! Happy New Year to you too, and may the year ring in quietly and calmly.

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  8. Rachel, I wanted to comment on your new post (the movies you've seen for the first time), but it seems I cannot leave a comment there??!! Wanted to comment on "The Court Jester" (one of my favourite Danny Kaye movies), but no possibility for me to comment! Did you change anything? – Anyway, would like to leave my list of movies I saw for the first time "last year" (weird year...)
    Wonderful, your New Year's tradition: to watch a new-to-you Alan Ladd movie. Difficult for me here in old Europe – Ladd movies, generally movies from the 40s and 50s are not easy to get (and we have a different "regional code" than US and Canada)... I won't give up and try to get as many Ladd movie DVDs as possible, even if it proves to be a difficult task! Wishing you a Happy New Year – Andrea

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    1. Andrea, no, I myself didn't change anything. Blogger might have, though? I know two other people said they had trouble commenting on my blogs this weekend, so who knows?

      Happy New Year!

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  9. False alarm, Rachel, sorry. It looks like I can comment, and now even as Andrea, no longer "Anonymous" or "unknown"... Are there any Ladd movies left which are new to you?! Lots of them left which would be new to me, but as I said, not easy to get them on DVD here in Switzerland. Would SO like to see Alan as "The Great Gatsby". New year's wish. Will try to get a DVD. And am quite determined to watch "Giant" again, having read some bits about its production in that book about George Stevens I mentioned.

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    1. Andrea, yes, I actually have more than a dozen Ladd films that I haven't watched yet. And about that many that I've only seen once, and want to watch a second time before I review them. My only real movie-watching time is after my kids are in bed, for an hour or so. But that's also my writing time for my books, so I only really get to watch maybe one or two movies or TV shows a week, and one of those is with my husband on our "date night" on Fridays. So it takes me a while to get through things.

      I have seen Alan's Great Gatsby, and it is wonderful. There's a Canadian company that put it out, and has now put out a two-volume collection of a lot of his other films that were previously hard to find. I was able to find them on Amazon, but I'm afraid they were Region 1. But it IS out there, at least!

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  10. Hi Rachel, I re-watched "Giant" last night after DECADES... Finally managed to find a Region 2 DVD. Well, with a movie of such epic dimensions it's actually 3 DVDs, with special features like introduction by George Stevens, Jr., documentary about filmmakers from Capra and Zinnemann to Warren Beatty talking about Stevens, additional documentaries about "Memories of 'Giant'" and "Return to 'Giant'", reports on opening nights in New York and Hollywood, old newsreel "Giant stars are off to Texas", behind-the-camera documentary "On Location in Marfa, Texas", four (!) trailers and the option of subtitles (which I don't need) in about 20 languages (who wants to hear Rock Hudson rant in Hungarian?!). All this for the equivalent of about 19 dollars. Not bad, huh? – Still searching desperately for the Ladd version of "The Great Gatsby". Perhaps a region-free DVD player would really be a good idea...

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    1. Andrea, WOW! That sounds like a super deluxe edition of Giant. My goodness! So many extras to explore.

      I hope when you do finally get to see Ladd's Gatsby that it's everything you're hoping for!

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