Giant – George Stevens
Leslie is the outsider now. She must grapple with a new set of customs, beliefs, and people. First, there is Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), Bick’s spinster older sister who finds it impossible to relinquish her tightly held rein on the Big House and on her younger brother. Luz is cordial to Leslie but treats her as a guest rather than as the new mistress of Reata. Other people whom Leslie meets are friends and neighboring ranchers. Leslie, who has spent her mature life engaging in adult conversations with men such as her father and other cultivated society folk, now is part of a completely different society. In Texas, the men talk only to other men about substantive matters. The women spend idle lives filled with shopping, endless coffee-klatching, and frivolous gossip. The prime example is Vashti (Jane Withers), the bulky awkward daughter of the neighboring ranch owner, who had hoped to land the dashing Bick and who marries one of her father’s ranch hands out of spite.
Leslie’s liberal instincts are stimulated by the plight of the Mexicans on the ranch and in the surrounding community. Her attempts to aid them only arouse Bick’s anger, and this prejudice shown early in the film eventually will build to a climax in which Bick must come to terms with his own weaknesses and complacency.
The presence of the swaggering wrangler, Jett Rink (James Dean), adds a dimension of menace to the plot. The Benedicts of Reata are the “haves”; the insecure, upwardly striving, threatening Jett is a “have not.” In his early scenes as a sullen ranch hand, he conveys an adulterous lust for Leslie, an arrogant hostility towards his employer Bick, and the hint of an unhealthy relationship with Luz. Jett’s interference in Benedict affairs causes Luz, who is feeling spurned by her brother, to ride out in a fury on the stallion, War Winds. She suffers a fatal fall, and in a rage Bick runs Jett off the ranch. Luz, however, has Willed Jett a seemingly worthless bit of land on the ranch and Jett will be heard from again. James Dean’s performance, straight method acting, is photographed almost entirely in shadows. Together, Stevens and Dean have captured a sense of dramatic unity.
After Luz’s death, a pattern of living emerges for Bick and Leslie. The slow pace is one method Stevens uses to reinforce his vision of reality. He wants to convey the feeling of twenty-five years slowly passing, of the adtustments and responses to change that his characters must make. Bick and Leslie become the parents of a son, Jordy (Dennis Hopper), and two daughters, Judy (Fran Bennett) and Luz (Carroll Baker), after her aunt. Now a new generation of Benedicts must deal with the conflicting values of their parents: Bick, who lives for the ranch and his traditions, and Leslie, still the liberal, fighting for causes and trying to impose some elegance and taste on the bleak Texas atmosphere.
Young Jordy, the pride and hope of his father, shows a marked distaste for the life of a rancher. In temperament, he takes after his mother, and, as he grows up, he longs to be a doctor. Jordy’s twin sister Judy is a disappointment first to her mother for her tomboy ways, and, later, to her father for her growing attachment to an experimental farmer named Bob Dietz (Earl Holliman), whom she eventually marries. More arguments occur between Leslie and Bick as their preconceived expectations for the children do not take into account that they are individuals with individual needs and desires. Even Leslie becomes narrow-minded as she insists on molding her daughters into unsuitable, unwanted roles.