Giant (1956) Revisited

IGiant (1956) first watched this film at uni, probably half asleep and stressed from all the third-year stuff going around my head. Not really able to appreciate Giant (1956) to it’s fullest. I originally said it was giant but only in terms of length and little else really. Which is only scratching the surface of what is really going on in this epic film that depicts 25 years in a family’s life in Texas.

So I sat down yesterday to re-evaluate this “giant” film which was giant in so many ways. From the very start we see that cattle baron Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson) had travelled the breadth of the country from Texas to Washington to buy a horse in the early 1920’s. Before buying he happened to fall in love with the independently minded Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) who he just can’t shake loose. Taking both of them home in his personally train carriage all the way into the open and vast country known as Texas. A state that is closely linked to the Western genre and the image of America. Even though a small fraction of westerns are even set in Texas, it’s the idea of open land, free for developing, living and making many settlers their own. All part of the American dream.

Most of the action takes places around and in a solitary house that covers half a million acres of land, an old Victorian house that stands proud in a barren part of the world yet holds and means so much in the film. Not just a family home for the Benedict’s for generations, it’s a symbol of power of capitalism, the taming of the land, making it work for them. It is the American dream come true for this family.

It’s a symbol of a dying way of life too as we find as the film progresses. Seeing a family who know and have worked the land for a century are faced with new problems. In the form of Mexican’s who are treated poorly by the Texans, a lower form of life, not as low as black slaves. Yet still looked down-upon as inferior to the rich white man who has made more of the land. Not living in shacks on land that nobody wants, unable to look after themselves. This is something that Leslie picks up on and becomes a real concern for her. The wellbeing of others and clash of ides between her from the north and her southern husband who with his friends could treat her like a child, not an equal who enjoy intelligent conversation. A clash of cultures that is a strong theme throughout the film.

Giant is most famous for being the last film to be released starring James Dean who died soon after he finished filming, delivering a powerful performance as Jet Rink. Even with his little screen time we feel his physical presence all the time he is on-screen, we see the last of so much potential lost so soon. Whilst the rest of the cast leave their mark, it’s Taylor who is the most effective, paired opposite Hudson who as much as he gives his best feels out-of-place.

The older the family get, the bigger they become, there is a strong sense of tradition that weighs down on the new generation to carry on the family business. Even as the 20th century is now in full-swing, times are moving much faster for the parents and their friends whose world all but gone. When Rink strikes oil we see a change in fortunes for the Benedict’s, once the most powerful people, beef is being over-taken by oil, which now covers Texas in the place of cattle which no longer move across the land, transported in lorries on the road. The landscape of the state has changed along with the social landscape.

There is a lot powerful themes discussed in this classic epic that takes the post-western era of America, and shakes it gently to reveal there are still prejudices around. To those who the land was taken from, to a new way of life. The industrial changes that brought great wealth is in a state of change. I’m glad I took the time to re-visit this film, it won’t be a favourite of mine. I see it in a new light, which is more positive than just a sweeping statement, it is still epic in scale filled with more than just time on its hands.

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8 responses

  1. Great film, great review. James Dean had such a presence on the screen. My favorite is East of Eden–I’ll never forget the emotional breakdown he has with his father as he crumbles. Awesome scene. However, Giant shows his coolness, his charisma.

    May 19, 2014 at 2:57 am

    • Cheers Cindy, couldn’t agree more. really need to catch up with East of Eden again.

      May 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm

  2. Great review. I still have never seen this. Oh man, I saw so many classics for the first time half asleep at uni though.

    May 19, 2014 at 10:54 am

    • Cheers haha, glad i’m not the only one there.

      May 19, 2014 at 12:15 pm

  3. Why have i never watched this movie? It has Elizabeth Taylor.
    I love Elizabeth Taylor.
    I have no excuse.

    May 19, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    • theres only one thing for it then…find and watch haha

      May 19, 2014 at 3:36 pm

  4. I really need to revisit this one again, splendid review.

    May 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    • Cheers mate, glad you like it. Mallick always seems to bring the reviewer out in me.

      May 21, 2014 at 6:24 pm

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