• PG, 1 hr. 55 min.
  • Drama, Classics
  • Directed By:
    Elia Kazan
    In Theaters:
    Apr 10, 1955 Wide
    On DVD:
    May 31, 2005
  • Warner Bros. Pictures


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East of Eden Reviews

Page 1 of 64

Super Reviewer

July 1, 2014
The son of a farmer desperately seeks his father's approval.
In this film James Dean looks like he could either violently explode or be disintegrated into a million pieces by a light breeze. His performance is a showcase in vulnerability, which, in a way, is was acting is about - the vulnerability and availability of an actor's emotional truth and interpretation of the character. The story is fine, but by the end of the film, all I can remember is Dean, whose performance is a master class in what acting should be.
Overall, see this film for James Dean.

Super Reviewer

January 30, 2012
Based on a novel by John Steinbeck, and directed by Elia Kazan, this is the first film in the James Dean Trilogy.

Set in Salinas, California in 1917, this is the story of Cal (Dean) a young wayward man who competes with his brother Aron (Dick Davalos) for the affections of their hardened father Adam (Raymond Massey). It's basically a Cain and Abel type of story, and agriculture plays an important role even. It's not a strict adaptation of that story, but it is the best reference point to use to describe things.

Things are rather dramatic, though they dip into melodrama at times. And, in typical Kazan fashion, there's a lot of subtext, mostly since the imminent entrance of the U.S. into World War i and anti-German sentiment plays a fairly sizable role throughout.

It took me a bit to get interested and involved, but once I tapped into this film's groove, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Like the other two film's Dean did I do think it's overrated to a degree, but it's still pretty solid even then. Of the three, this one's #2 for me behind Rebel Without a Cause.

It's good, but personally I didn't think it was outstanding or anything. The acting is terrific though, and there's some great camerawork, but it just didn't completely seem like my thing. If it were, I'd probably have a somewhat higher opinion of it. Still though, it's getting a really solid recommendation from me.
Carlos M

Super Reviewer

September 13, 2012
A timeless and profoundly touching retelling of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel using the early 20th century California as backdrop. While the visuals and music are wonderful, it is James Dean's performance the most spectacular here, especially in the poignant final scene.

Super Reviewer

September 26, 2007
Extraordinarily good version of the second half of the Steinbeck classic novel. Dean is riveting as the conflicted Cal with Julie Harris as Abra matching him every step of the way. Tautly directed by Kazan even in the quieter moments this pulls you right along. Burl Ives makes his few small scenes count and Raymond Massey is strong as the misguided and righteous father. The real standout in support is Jo Van Fleet in her Oscar winning role as the cruel Kate, she crafts a fully realized person in just a few short scenes. James Dean was fine in all three of his big screen films but this is his best performance. If you have the chance catch the Jane Seymour miniseries of the entire book, it has its faults but her performance in it is sublime.

Super Reviewer

December 29, 2010
Was anyone else completely convinced that Dean was 14 year old boy? His mannerisms were always dead perfect. And I must say that this movie actually made me want to read the book! Which I know is a brick of a book.
Anyway, at first I wasn't all that enthralled in it, Dean played the disaffected youth he was so good at doing. Then he started trying to be "good" (a term thrown around a bit too much really) and I was a little more interested. By the time (SPOILER) Aron ruined the birthday party, I was ready for blood to be spilled!! I read that this was a "slice" of the novel so I'm curious to see what was cut.

Super Reviewer

September 5, 2010
An interesting story, but it feels a bit awkward to me, I don't know why. It could be better.
Conner R

Super Reviewer

June 23, 2010
Just a great movie all around, James Dean and Elia Kazan are a match made in heaven. Taking only a slice of Steinbeck's novel, this feels like a very complete and powerful story. I think this is Elia Kazan's biggest and broadest vision, it goes so much further than his other performance based films. James Dean captures a troubled youth like no one else possibly could, it's interesting how similar his life was to Cal. I think it's a vastly under appreciated movie, a classic in the truest sense.

Super Reviewer

November 4, 2009
James Dean illustrates why he shot to stardom during his astounding short film career as an bonafide Hollywood actor in this 1955 adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel directed by Elia Kazan. James Dean stars as Cal,a young man who isn't happy with his lot in life. His problems include competition with his brother(Richard Davalos),for the attention of their father's affection(Raymond Massey),and for the love of a young woman(Julie Harris)and a mother's enstrangement(Jo Van Fleet) during the turmoil and despair at the height of World War I. Greats performances from Burl Ives,and the astounding score from composer Leonard Rosenman make this movie one of the best to come out of the 1950's

Super Reviewer

June 1, 2008
Better known as the first role for James Dean, East of Eden is laregely forgotten about for anything else. The acting is very good and it's directed by one of the greats, Elia Kazan, but for some reason I just couldn't get into this. It seems overlong just a bit even though it's just under 2 hours. This film might take another viewing or two to get into, but I don't even know about that. Dean, though, shows glimpses of what he could've been had he lived longer. The guy was a wonderful actor.
Ken S

Super Reviewer

May 5, 2007
The only thing better than the cinematography is the performances.

Super Reviewer

July 16, 2008
"east of eden" is one among the james dean triology, and to my belief, inferior to "rebel without a cause". it claims to be adapted from steinbeck's classical novel which must have been diluted in the movie version in favor of james dean's performances. obviously a star vehicle designed for dean whose "eletra complex" is boiling furiously like steaming water ready to explode with each of his unique idiocyncracies.

the scenario is typical: two siblings under the same roof, father prefers his first son who behaves and obeys to the other son who frowns and growls in agony(dean). so the disliked son makes every attempt to get daddy's recognition but daddy doesn't like it since what he does ain't decent to father's superior standard of moralities. so he throws the giant ice blocks down to the ladder (oh, big deal??) and steals the heart of his bro's girlfriend with his seductive tears and sympathetic whining which always inspires girls' maternity. but he just cannot win so he maliciously reveals the debauched reality of his mother to disillusion his higher-than-thou brother due to an avengeful angst. at last, this "evil" son stimulates his own dad into a paralyzing stroke. even so, the script still requests father to forgive the prodigal to grant a somehow happier ending just becuz he's james dean.

it barrows from the biblical analogy of cain and abel, the intensive antagonism between siblings and their mutually shared wish to destructive elimination. dean is the wretched one whom father and brother detest with serious disaproval. but the wind of the audience blows over dean's side with every plot gimmick to enhance dean's shrewd resourcefulness in contrast of his brother's lackluster stiffness, contrived and nothing creative. it's like the producer and the director must have noted on every page of the script to conjure an exhibition of james dean complex. and they suceed, except james dean's performances, there's nothing watchable for the entire movie. it's not a great adaption of a literature piece nor good cinematic work with excellent deployment. nothing matters but dean.

there're one particular scene worthy of the ticket, dean's nervous crackup after his hard-earned cash being rebuffed by dad as futilely crooked effort. his trunk goes limp like an epilepsy patient, his trembling fingers clasp over dad's shoulders, his face contorted like a thousand knots tied over his stomache, pieces of money falling off his palms as if he loses everything, then he screams "i hate you" after dad commands his discipline. such compelling vulnerabilty ignites the whole room with frightful contagiousness, this is a child demanding love and attention in a dreadful desperation. sheer brilliance.

perhaps the notion of being an actor is not about demonstrating your caliber of strength but your willingness to let loose then bare your fraility, just like the sexiest scene in "streetcar named desire" is brando shouting and crying for STELLA! like a big baby. is it a very masculine deed? i don't think so. maybe the 50s rebel actors do change the facade of manhood with their boyish fragilities.

the strong crave for paternity is a common theme here just like "rebel without a cause" in which dean's father is a wimp stifled by the mother. in "east of eden", father is an irreconciled puritanical stuffed shirt who cannot stand him. the james dean issue with paternity is either perennial defiance or void of recognition. as the script underlines "he cannot be a man if father doesn't forgive/accept him"..thus he's a boy forever in hunger of a father image, reluctant to grow up.

(ps) maybe james dean is bit too vulnerable, give me back john garfield! jk.
Tim S

Super Reviewer

February 15, 2009
I am a huge fan of both John Steiinbeck and Elia Kazan so I knew that I wouldn't be disappointed going into it. You include a mesmerizing performance by James Dean and great co-stars like Burl Ives and you've got a fantastic movie. I love the story and how everything turns out in the end (loved the last scene between Dean and his father in the film). Again, I guess the thing that is so appealing about films such as these is that we have lost the simple basics of what makes a movie good these days with trying to come up with some convoluted twist on the same old story. It's really refreshing to watch films such as these to remind you why you loved movies in the first place. The acting, the direction, the scenery, the cinematography (I love the fact that Kazan just leaves his shots like still life portraits), production design, etc. Sad that we couldn't see more Dean performances.
Michael G

Super Reviewer

November 12, 2006
Probably the best of Dean's movies. And it also showed many a young man that it's okay to be a brooding moron who's really not that interesting.
Jeremy S

Super Reviewer

June 27, 2006
East of Eden is the first film my favourite actor James Dean ever stared in. His performance this film is in many ways his best, his most soulful, most vulnerable and most complex, but not his most iconic, which would have to be Rebel Without A Cause. Riveting, moody and brooding Dean personifies the loveless, sad young man that yearns for the love of his cold father. Every time you want to pull away you are pulled back. Utimately the film deals with the struggle of good and evil and the psychology of childhood development, which shows that a boy needs to connect with his father in order to develop properly. Indeed this film offers the most moving protrayal of this kind of circumstances and results. One of the reasons why Dean was so brilliant was that he was play himself, his own relationship with his father. This film reached out and spoked to me in a way that few films can. Yet wether or not you personally connect with this film, the film it self is enough to move you and have an impact. A classic and a truly heart braking film.
Byron B

Super Reviewer

February 8, 2007
I saw this a few years ago as I was working through my Oscar list. I don't remember it very well, but the images that vaguely stuck in my head were in black and white. This movie is in technicolor, so maybe I remember even less than I thought. After reading Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, I accepted a friend's recommendation to also read East of Eden. It is an epic multi-generational story, which made me decide to re-watch this movie. The movie covers only the final fraction of the story and eliminates one of my favorite characters from the book, Lee. Some other small changes are made and the characterizations don't quite match what I imagined while reading the book, so it doesn't really feel like the book is being brought to life. Instead Kazan and Dean have crafted something of their own. I think the movie is worth a higher rating than I had given it before, but I appreciate it more after having read the book. The book gives you more of an understanding of subtext and family history. Still the costuming, the widescreen scope, the performances of Dean and Van Fleet and the theme of forgiveness make it a worthwhile watch.
John B

Super Reviewer

August 7, 2013
The James Dean film that gets less airplay compared to Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, East of Eden is nonetheless another prime example of what good acting Dean successfully brought to the screen. I think this was the last one which is a shame.
Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron W. Johnson

Super Reviewer

June 21, 2012
At least from a career standpoint, I don't know if I feel more sorry for James Dean or, well, anyone else in this film who isn't James Dean. Forget east of Eden, just about everyone else's careers went south after this film. Okay, maybe the supporting cast didn't fall that fast, though they didn't really take off all that much after this film film, and all the while, James Dean didn't do but three roles that weren't uncredited bit parts before he died, and people are still talking about him, or at least about how he always looked so tired all the time. Well, to be fair, he did do some pretty good films, and he was really good in them, with this film being no exception, though what else would you expect from the director of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and... "The Last Tycoon"? Okay, I can think of some people who would say that we can just forget about that and just leave with our fond memories of Elia Kazan, of which, there are plenty, if you can remember them in the first place. A good bit of Kazan's work hasn't really stuck in everyone's memory banks all that deeply, yet the people who do remember his work can tell you that this film was certainly something to behold, being a classic masterpiece. To those people, I say shut up you annoying nostalgiacs, because while this film is good, it's not that good, being an Eden held back by a few corrupting snakes.

The film hits its slower spots, though rarely, if ever to a terribly dull degree, and what slow spots the film does hit are few and far between. However, were slowness more prevalent, it would most likely still be among the least of this film's worries, because the biggest blow to this film is that it is structurally all over the place. Now, the story isn't a total mess, with most everything scattered everwhere in the most unkept and uneven of fashions, yet the film is still quite uncomfortable in a lot of key places in its progression. Certain turns in storyline or focus are jarring and sudden, lacking enough time for you to fully lock into the situation, thus leaving the film a tad disengaging here and there, while other certain sudden shifts - particularly when it comes to characters - render the film a tad hard to follow. Still, it all comes down to long lines of non-oomph, with the film not really falling all that limp, though not really taking off that far when it does finally pick up. For all extents and purposes, this should be just another average film that rests among the workmanlike pile of films that have earned notoriety, mainly because of the stars who head. However, this film is better than that, perhaps falling a bit too limp at points, though not to where it completely falls out of being genuinely good, being made so by quite a few aspects that are mostly subtle, yet make quite a difference.

Okay, now, maybe Ted D. McCord's cinematography doesn't necessarily make quite a difference, as it is only occasionally outstanding, yet when it does stand out, it's pretty impressive. Early on in the film, a scene in which James Dean's Cal Trask character is made to read excerpt from the Bible is riddled with very cleverly staged and lit camera shots that really capture the hint of bleakness in the air that reflects our characters and really sets up the themes of the film, in which you can find quite a few other fancy and effective shots of this nature. Still, again, these fine shots are too sporadic to stick a landing as a key strength to telling this story, so in order for this film to really be good, it's just got to be a good story. Well, sure enough, while the story structure is very messy, the overall product presented is generally compelling, with intriguing themes and concepts that help keep it afloat, yet not without the help of some upstanding performances. Sure, Julie Harris is pretty bad, when not simply mediocre, yet most everyone else is engagingly charismatic, though there are some standouts, such as Jo Van Fleet, whose surprisingly fairly subtle and thoughtful portrayal of an untrusting and very business-oriented woman facing the risk of changing tremendously when considerably grand events and discoveries begin to fall into her life makes her among your more compelling aspects to the film. As for James Dean, with all of my joking around about how he's become such a big icon, even with his paper-slim filmography, he got those Oscar nominations and all of this notoriety for a reason, as he was the original great actor to lose young, something made clear very early on in the film as he very charismatically, yet ever so believably manages to nail the ticks and eccentricities of such a disturbed and clearly unhealthy person like the Cal Trask character in a fashion that definately leaves you aware that our lead is not all there, yet still has enough competence in him to hold layers. Well, sure enough, while the writing leaves those layers to jar in on occasion, Dean never lets up on making the complexities within his character very organic, presenting a person who is well-intentioned and reasonably competent, even with his problems, looking for self-value and respect as a good man, thus making for a very restrained, yet very engrossing lead performance that stands as further testament to just what we miss about the late, great Mr. Dean.

Overall, outside of a few slow spots, the real blow to the film is its structural messiness, from jarring story shifts to sudden character changes, that leave the film a bit hard to follow and often rather disengaging, while long periods of limited oomph leave the film to run the risk of descending to simply average, yet it manages to its own, secured by occasions of clever cinematography and consistency in story compellingness, really brought to life by generally strong performances, the strongest of which being delivered by the late, great James Dean, whose layered, subtle and enthralling lead performance helps in ultimately making "East of Eden" a mostly intriguing study on morality and value.

3/5 - Good
Alec B

Super Reviewer

August 11, 2010
I feel that most of the film is cold and emotionless, but its gotta be hard to condense that novel into under two hours. James Dean is great here, I think I like him in this more than in "Rebel Without a Cause". He's good in both (Althogh I still firmly believe that 'Giant' is the best thing he ever did) and Rebel is the better film but I think Dean is more subtle in "East of Eden" and his whole metldown after his father rejects his birthday present is really amazing.
Mike T

Super Reviewer

June 28, 2006
I'm in awe. The combination of Elia Kazan's fierce direction and James Dean's formidable acting proved to be quite the force. This is a layered, painful and deeply troubling film that fully deserves its status as a classic. The story is beautiful, but it's James Dean's landmark performance that struck me the hardest. Everyone should see this.
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