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Giant (August 23, 2012)

After the hundreds of instances of racial stereotypes, racial profiling, and accepted conclusions about how people from certain ethnic groups act and are, that have been presented in Hollywood films, from Birth of a Nation on, it does my heart good to finally see Rock Hudson start a fight in a diner for racial equality in this movie released in October, 1956. But the fight’s a good long way into this movie, which runs three hours and twenty one minutes. Giant’s screenplay was written by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber. It was filmed from May through October 1955, and edited over the following year. It was directed by George Stevens, and starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Lots of other actors appeared as well – Carroll Baker, Mercedes McCambridge, Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper. Stevens won an Oscar for best director, and the movie got a passel of nominations – best picture; Guiol and Moffat for best adapted screenplay; Dean and Hudson each for best actor; McCambridge for best supporting actress; Boris Leven and Ralph Hurst for best color art direction-set direction; Moss Mabry and Marjorie Best for best color costume design; William Hornbeck, Philip Anderson and Fred Bohanan for best editing; and Dmitri Tiomkin for best music score. The film was partly made in Texas – the scenes on the ranch called Reata were filmed near Marfa, in the Trans-Pecos region of far west Texas. It cost $5 million and grossed $35 million, the most any Warner Brothers film made until Superman in 1978. It was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board as a film worthy of preservation in 2005.

Mercedes McCambridge plays Rock Hudson’s sister Luz. I agree with what critic Erik Beck wrote, “She is vibrant and alive and the film moves when she is around.” If my mom were here tonight she’d tell you that Miss McCambridge attended Mundelein College in the late 1930s, at the same time as my mom. One story I remember is that McCambridge does the location ranch scenes wearing a cowboy hat. She wrote in her autobiography that Gary Cooper had worn the hat and aged it after she had gotten it from wardrobe. When James Dean heard this he coveted it, and tried to get it away from her, without any luck, as I remember the story. This is the last of the three films in which Dean appeared, and unlike his performances in the earlier two, Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, he had to play a character who aged beyond twenty. He died in an automobile accident in September, 1955, as filming on Giant was ending.

It’s big, and it’s long, and it’s certainly bombastic, as perhaps befits its subject, the life of big Texas oilmen. People who have attended movies here before may know I usually apologize for films that are way over two hours, and this is certainly one of them. I always feel there is something that could be cut to tell the same story in the usual ninety to one-hundred-twenty minutes. Leslie Halliwell in his Film Guide called this picture a “sprawling, overlong family saga with unconvincing acting but good visual style.” I agree that the way it looks, rather than the performances, is why it is remembered today. The Australian film critic Billy Stevenson, in his blog, “A Film Canon” wrote “Stevens (presents) the Texan ranch. . . as a ‘state of mind’, ‘another country’ and, finally, a surreal, lunar landscape. . .That said, this . . .exhausts the film's sublime aesthetic, replacing it with a proliferation of grotesque, infantile, even carnivalesque wealth that culminates with an extended, claustrophobic interior sequence, and informs the extraordinary bathos with which the film concludes: ‘You wound up on the floor, on your back, in the middle of the salad, and I said to myself “Well, after one hundred years, the Benedict family is a real big success.”'" I hope you enjoy watching Giant with me tonight.