There is a sound theory about story-telling. “Alice in Wonderland” stated it a long time ago. Start at the beginning and go
on to the end and then stop. “Giant,” with a running time of fully three hours and 18 minutes, violates that concept, but it
is also, for the most part, an excellent film which registers strongly on all levels, whether it’s in its breathtaking
panoramic shots of the dusty Texas plains; the personal, dramatic impact of the story itself, or the resounding message it
has to impart.
One immediately wonders what sort of reception “Giant” will be accorded in Texas, where the Edna Ferber novel was not
popular. For the picture stands squarely on the book, and the Texans on the screen are presented with penetrating realism in
a story that pulls no punches. Texas apart, “Giant” rates as sock boxoffice.
Many elements have been fused to make “Giant” click. Producers George Stevens and Henry Ginsberg spent freely to capture the
mood of the Ferber novel and the picture is fairly saturated with the feeling of the vastness and the mental narrowness, the
wealth and the poverty, the pride and the prejudice that make up Texas of today and yesterday. Here is an unflattering vivid
portrayal of this rugged state where cattle ralsing was in part supplanted by oil derricks, and where people scaled the
economic ladder from rancher to millionaire almost overnight.
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But if production values are almost overpowering, the performances in this film match them under Stevens’ direction. Trio of
Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean turns in excellent portrayals, with each character moulded in a strongly
individual vein. Carroll Baker, here introduced in her first important part, proves herself a most competent actress.
It’s one of the troubles with such super-long pix that there is a tendency to lose identification with the characters. Yet,
in “Giant,” the personal relationships aren’t subdued by the temptation to concentrate on pictoral values. These people are
alive, they have warmth and dimension, and they become real in their inter-related problems.
Story starts when Hudson, as Bick Benedict, comes to Maryland to buy a black stallion and finds and marries Miss Taylor, a
beautiful and strongwilled girl, who is now to be transplanted from the gentle green of her state to the dusty gray of Texas
in the early twenties. In her new home she clashes with Bick’s sister, Mercedes McCambridge, who is killed riding the
stallion. The years pass, and as Miss Taylor gets to like her new home state, she also rebels against its prejudice against
the Mexican laborers. The marriage almost breaks up, but Hudson persuades her to return to the ranch.
Jett, a ranchhand, played by James Dean, antagonistic to Hudson, finds oil on his little plot and realizes an ambition to
become rich. At the start of World War II he convinces Hudson to allow oil drilling also on Hudson’s ranch and the millions
come flowing in. But money only intensifies Dean’s bad characteristics. Now nicknamed Mr. Texas, he is a heavy drinker and
continues to play his ruthless game. Hudson’s son, Dennis Hopper, marries a Mexican girl and the prejudice issue comes to a
head even as there is a final showdown between Hudson and Dean. Pic ends on the racial note, with the camera closing in on
the eyes of Hudson’s two grandsons–one a Nordic child, the other half Mexican.
Stevens and scripters Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat did not flinch the discrimination angle. “Giant” isn’t preachy–although in
the end it comes close to it–but it’s a powerful indictment of the Texas superiority complex. Not since Darryl F. Zanuck
found the courage to make “Pinky” and “Gentlemen’s Agreement” has the screen spoken out with such a voice against group
snobbery. In fact, the picture makes that point even stronger than it’s in the book. Film at the end has a crashing fight in
which Hudson stands up with his fists for the right of a Mexican couple to eat in a diner. This leads to a poignant and
moving scene in which Miss Taylor, now middle-aged, tells Hudson (who has prejudices himself) of her admiration for him.
In the light of the current death cult starring the late James Dean it’s probably safe to assume that he’ll be the strongest
draw on the “Giant” marquee. No one should be disappointed, and the film only proves what a promising talent has been lost.
As the shiftless, envious, bitter ranchhand who hates society, Dean delivers an outstanding portrayal. Plenty of screentime
is devoted to him, and he makes the most of the juicy role. Whether in his scenes with Miss Taylor, whom he admires, or as
the oil tycoon whoshows up at the banquet in his honor in a drunken stupor, Dean is believable. It’s a sock performance.
Miss Taylor, whose talent and emotional ranges have usually seemed limited, turns in a surprisingly clever performance that
registers up and down the line. She is tender and yet stubborn. Curiously enough, she’s far better in the second half of the
film, when her hair begins to show some gray, than in earlier sequences. Portraying a woman of maturity, who has learned to
adjust to a different social pattern, Miss Taylor is both engaging and beautiful. Her costumes, incidentally, are most
Hudson achieves real stature as Bick Benedict. A good deal of understanding goes into his performance as a man who sees a
ranching tradition destroyed by oil and whose son prefers medicine. He is excellent in adjusting to, but never seemingly
comprehending, the changes going on around him. With “Giant,” Hudson enters real star status.
Large cast features many fine characterizations. Miss Baker is charming as the highspirited Luz Benedict attracted by Dean;
Mercedes McCambridge as Hudon’s rawboned sister gives a tight, down-to-earth performance, but is occasionally stylized and
hard to understand; Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Alexander Scourby, Robert Nichols, Charles Watts are all in perfect tune as
Texans who live around the Reata ranch; Sal Mineo registers as the Mexican boy; Dennis Hopper is good as Jordan, Hudson’s son
and Elsa Cardenas is attractive and subdued as the girl he marries. Earl Holliman contributes importantly as Bob Dace, the
laconic ranch youngster who marries Fran Bennett, Hudson’s daughter.
Good also in smaller parts are Judith Evelyn, Paul Fix and Rodney Taylor.
“Giant” is not one but many stories; too many perhaps. And director Stevens has possibly allowed himself too much freedom in
taking his time to pull all the strands together and weave them into a proper whole. The pace of the picture is frequently
leisurely and some scenes, such as the burial sequence, are not only unnecessary but also impede the proper flow of the
story. A good half hour could be cut from the film without hurting it.
Yet, Stevens’ direction on the whole is topnotch and distinctive. In his hands, “Giant” makes the transition from the old
Texas to the new with vivid intensity, catching not only the changes wrought by time and money, but also focusing on the
contrasts of modern Texas, where social graces are but skindeep and distances are covered by the oil-rich ranchers in their
private planes. Final banquet scene, and the raucous behavior of the people in the ballroom, is a testament to Stevenson’s
astuteness. Fight footage catches some of the raw power of the brawl in “Shane.”
Lenser William C. Mellor deserves some sort of award for his work. He has achieved stunning effects and “Giant” benefits
immeasurably from his realism. His camera has captured here some of the most impressive vistas seen on the screen to date.
Unfortunately, the WarnerColor isn’t all it should be, particularly in the earlier sequences. Fleshtones show up very dark
and the performers’ makeup becomes obvious. Some of the closeups, particularly of Miss Taylor, are hurt by the vacillating
tint effects. Color improves later in the pic and is stunning in the outdoor shots.
William Hornbeck’s editing is a craftsman-like job although there are a few choppy sequences. On the whole, “Giant” fully
measures up to its expectations. At the b.o., it can’t do anything but collect Texas-size chunks of coin.
1956: Best Director.
Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (James Dean, Rock Hudson), Supp. Actress (Mercedes McCambridge), Adapted Screenplay, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Editing, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture