Giant (1956) was a film that should have been amazing. After all, it’s not every day that you get a chance to see Rock Hudson, Liz Taylor and James Dean share the billing. And all three of them play their roles beautifully. They’re pretty much typecast in this one, so you could say the movie plays to their strengths.
Unfortunately, the writing isn’t up to the cast. Or perhaps it was the directing or the fact that the editors didn’t want to remove an unnecessary extra hour from the movie. It’s fine, of course, but it’s not brilliant.
Loosely, the plot follows a Texas Ranch family over a period of twenty-odd years as they go from rich to mega-rich and watch one of their former employees become a millionaire. The melodrama comes from an unrealized (this is dead-center in the middle of the Hays Code era, remember) love triangle between the three big stars. Then there’s a secondary plot that looks like it was written by one of today’s Hollywood social-justice fanatics. As always when Hollywood gets preachy, it deducts from the quality (which is one of the easily identifiable reasons Hollywood is hemorrhaging money today).
Perhaps what I’ll remember most about this film aren’t the performances (much less the plot) but the vistas of a 20th-century Texas cattle ranch.
This was Dean’s final film role, and the movie was released posthumously. He died in an accident while driving his beloved Porsche 550 Spyder. If he’d survived, it’s likely his legacy would be much different–he would have needed to reinvent himself, since his angsty teen persona was already annoying and wearing thin in this film. A fascinating what-might-have-been.
So, unless you’re a megafan of one of these actors, Giant is a film in the 1001 movies that one can afford to miss.
Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which the Etruscan armies attempt to hold the Roman legions at bay… by any means necessary. You can check it out here.