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Giant (1956)


Giant
Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean


'Giant' is a dramatic epic film about two generations of a Texas family, made in 1956, directed by George Stevens, and adapted from the 1950 novel by Edna Ferber. The movie stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean with a high quality supporting cast featuring Carroll Baker, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper and Sal Mineo. James Dean made only three films as a leading actor and 'Giant' was the third and last, and earned him his second Academy Award nomination - he was killed in a car crash shortly after completing his part.

The movie was a major commercial success and its initial release generated $14million, with an estimated international gross of $25 million, becoming, at the time, the most successful picture in Warner Bros' history, until 'Superman' in 1978. George Stevens won the Academy Award for Best Director and the movie received a further nine unsuccessful Oscar nominations, including two for Best Actor (James Dean and Rock Hudson), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge), Best Picture, and Best Music Score for Dimitri Tiomkin.

The performances are outstanding, particularly that of James Dean. Director George Stevens does justice to the immensity of the Texas landscape, and unusually for the time the film deals interestingly with both racial and class differences, giving a clear indictment of the racist culture of Texas at that time. The movie illustrates well the callous discrimination against women and Mexicans or "wetbacks"-Texans of Mexican descent.

'Giant' is a long movie at three hours twenty-one minute running time but its epic scale justifies the length.

In 2005, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry .

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Plot

'Giant' is an ambitious epic which starts in the 1920's and traces the rise and fall in the fortunes of two generations of a wealthy cattle-ranching Texan family. There is also an interesting sub-plot concerning racial and class differences.

Bick Benedict, played by Rock Hudson, is a Texas cattle baron who marries a spirited Maryland belle, Leslie, played by Elizabeth Taylor, and brings her back to his enormous family cattle ranch in Texas. Reata, Bick's sister has left some of the property to Jett Rink, played by James Dean, who used to work for Bick as a cowhand. Rink discovers oil, starts an oil drilling company and becomes immensely rich, but his personal life is a disappointment (he carries a torch for Leslie) and he declines into alcoholism.

The years pass by and as Bick and Leslie grow older, they are concerned with who will run the ranch after they've gone. Their daughter, played by Carroll Baker) wants to take over, but Leslie doesn't approve. To Bick's disappointment, their son (Dennis Hopper) has married a Latina woman and become a doctor. Eventually Bick and Leslie come to terms with life and are able to gaze contentedly at their two grandsons, one white, one brown, who represent the future.

Production

Edna Ferber specialised in writing sprawling family sagas, several of them set in the West. Her 1930 novel 'Cimarron' was twice filmed by Hollywood, as was the 1926 film 'Show Boat', set in the Deep South. A number of Hollywood studios made offers for the film rights to 'Giant', but Ferber chose Warner Brothers as director George Stevens gave her assurances that he would remain faithful to the novel. He and Ferber, together with former Paramount Pictures head Henry Ginsberg, formed Giant Productions in 1953 to produce the film, all working without salary in return for a percentage of the profits.
Sets and Location
Shooting began in May 1955, firstly in Los Angeles and then on location in Marfa and Valentine, Texas, and in Charlottesville, Virginia. The set at Marfa was used for about 2 months and during that time director Stevens used to encourage the locals to come by, either to watch or take part as extras, and dialect coaches.
The enormous Benedict mansion was shipped to Marfa after being built at the Warner Brothers' prop department. It was nothing more than a shell and the timber superstructure remains to this day as a tourist attraction in its original location at the Worth Evans Ranch, twenty-one miles from Marfa. The oil derricks seen prominently in the film were also built in Los Angeles and transported to the Texas film site.
Casting
The role of Leslie Benedict was eagerly sought after by many Hollywood actresses. Grace Kelly was a serious contender, but after her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco MGM decided not to loan her out to Warners. Other actresses considered for the role were Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich. Rock Hudson was given his choice of leading lady by George Stevens and he chose Elizabeth Taylor. The two became close during shooting and remained lifelong friends. Considered for the Rock Hudson part were William Holden, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, Forrest Tucker, Sterling Hayden and John Wayne.
The film has developed a cult following, almost entirely due to James Dean. He died in September, 1955 in a car crash just one week after filming ended and he quickly became an international symbol of disaffected youth. It is he who provides the film with its memorable images, such as standing with the rifle slung across his shoulders.
James Dean
Dean and George Stevens argued constantly during the shoot. Dean referred to Stevens as "Fatso" behind his back, and Stevens found it necessary to instruct Dean to get rid of on-camera mannerisms such as moving his head from side to side when talking. Dean was also criticised for his lateness on set. Both Stevens and Rock Hudson were displeased with what they regarded as Dean's lack of professionalism during the making of the film although Stevens praised his acting ability. Elizabeth Taylor formed a close bond with Dean and she was devastated by his death.

Main Cast

Elizabeth Taylor ... Leslie Benedict
Rock Hudson ... Jordan "Bick" Benedict Jr.
James Dean ... Jett Rink
Carroll Baker ... Luz Benedict II
Jane Withers ... Vashti Snythe
Chill Wills ... Uncle Bawley
Mercedes McCambridge ... Luz Benedict
Dennis Hopper ... Jordan Benedict III
Sal Mineo ... Angel Obregon II
Rod Taylor ... Sir David Karfrey
Earl Holliman ... "Bob" Dace
Paul Fix ... Dr. Horace Lynnton
Judith Evelyn ... Mrs. Nancy Lynnton
Fran Bennett ... Judy Benedict
Elsa Cárden ... ... Juana Guerra Benedict
Nick Adams ... Jett Rink - Giving Banquet Speech (voice)
Dan White (uncredited) ... Truck Driver in Diner
Monte Hale ... Bale Clinch
Max Terhune ... Dr. Walker
Alexander Scourby ... Old Polo

Credits

Director ... George Stevens
Producer ... George Stevens
Screenplay ... Fred Guiol,Ivan Moffat, from novel by Edna Ferber
Music ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography ... William C. Mellor
Format ... Color (WarnerColor)
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Release Date ... 10 Oct 1956
Running Time ... 201 mins

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Director ... George Stevens

Nine Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Warner Bros.
Best Actor ... Rock Hudson
Best Actor ... James Dean
Best Supporting Actress ... Mercedes McCambridge
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color ... Boris Leven, Ralph S. Hurst
Best Writing, Screenplay, Adapted ... Fred Guiol,Ivan Moffat
Best Costume Design, Color ... Moss Mabry and Marjorie Best
Best Film Editing ... William Hornbeck
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture ... Dimitri Tiomkin