Giant – George Stevens
Giant belongs to the Hollywood era that saw the release of films such as The Ten Commandments, Around the World in 80 Days, War and Peace, and The King and 1 all in the same year. Emphasis was on spectacle, grandeur, extravagance, and length. Producer/director George Stevens, in keeping with the trend, ambitiously attempted to film a great American epic from Edna Ferber’s sprawling best seller about a colorful, land-rich Texas family. The film’s mixed critical reviews did not prevent its commercial success and kudos for individual performances and Stevens’ overall work in the film. Some skeptical critics attributed the film’s success to the last performance of James Dean, who became an object of adulation after his death in a fiery car crash. Dean portrayed Jett Rink, one of the three central, characters in this saga that covers approximately twenty-five years of American, and especially Texan history.
Before Jett Rink is introduced, the two other central characters meet, fall in love, and set the stage for their future conflicts. The film opens with Texas cattle baron Bick Benedict, played with authority by Rock Hudson, being out of his element in Maryland, in the elegant, cultured society of the prominent Maryland surgeon, Dr. Horace Lynnton, whose prize stallion Bick has come to purchase. While visiting the Lynntons, he meets their lovely daughter Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor). Although Bick and Leslie sense an immediate attraction to each other, their totally dissimilar natures and backgrounds spark some spirited and lively scenes. Leslie Lynnton is the despair of her social-climbing mother because she has a sharp mind and a tongue to match. Mrs. Lynnton fears that Leslie, although she is engaged, may never marry the “right” husband. Bick is attracted to Leslie but is totally immersed in his ranch and completely convinced of the greatness of the Texas way of life. When Leslie tries to discuss certain controversial points of Texas history, such as how the•arge landowners obtained their vast holdings, Bick’s response is hardly polite. Key areas of conflict are identified early in the film, even during this courtship stage, and foreshadow the power struggles and troubles to come.
These opening Maryland scenes are photographed in bright colors amid lush surroundings. There are shots of the green, rolling, fox-hunting country of Maryland, detailed close-ups of the lavish life style of the Lynntons, and lingering close-ups of the attractive Bick and Leslie as they fall in love. Stevens is painstaking in portraying small, sensitive details.
The scene now changes. Mr. and Mrs. Bick Benedict and the prize stallion, War Winds, are off to Texas to Bick’s massive ranch, Reata, and to a bout of culture shock for the former Leslie Lynnton. Again, differences between Bick and Leslie are shown in Leslie’s gracious greeting of a Mexican youth who has come to meet them at the train station. Bick tells her that she should not make such a fuss over a Mexican boy. They have their first quarrel as man and wife, but are reconciled on the drive to their home, which is a memorable visual experience. In contrast to the green, lush countryside of Leslie’s Maryland home, Texas is introduced desolately as the speeding car kicks’ up the brown-gray dust for mile after mile of the vast, treeless ranch until the stark Gothic outline of the Big House emerges above horizon.