George Stevens' sprawling adaptation of Edna Ferber's best-selling novel successfully walks a fine line between potboiler and serious drama for its 210-minute running time, making it one of the few epics of its era that continues to hold up as engrossing entertainment across the decades. Giant opens circa 1922 in Maryland, where Texas rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) has arrived to buy a stallion called War Winds from its owner, Dr. Horace Lynnton (Paul Fix). But much as Bick loves and knows horses, he finds himself even more transfixed by the doctor's daughter, Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), and after some awkward moments, she has to admit that she's equally drawn to the shy, laconic Texan. They get married and Leslie spends her honeymoon traveling with Jordan to his ranch, Reata, which covers nearly a million acres of Texas. Once there, however, she finds that she has to push her way into her rightful role as mistress of the house, past Bick's sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), who can't accept her brother's marriage or the changes it means in the home they share. Also working around Reata is the laconic ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean) -- from a family as rooted in Texas as the Benedicts but not nearly as lucky (or "foxy"), Jett is dirt-poor and barely educated at all, and he fairly oozes resentment at Bick for his arrogance, although Luz likes him and for that reason alone Bick is obliged to keep him on. One thing Jett does have in common with his employer is that he is in awe of Leslie's beauty; another is his nearly total contempt for the Mexican-Americans who work for them -- Jett and Bick may have contempt for each other, but either one is just as likely to dismiss the Mexican-Americans around them as a bunch of shiftless "wetbacks." Luz feels so threatened with a loss of power and control that she decides to assert herself with War Winds, yet another "prize" that Bick brought back from Maryland that resists her authority -- then decides to ride the stallion despite being warned that no one but Leslie is wholly safe on him, and spurs him brutally in an effort to break him, which ends up destroying them both in the battle of wills she starts. After Luz's death, Jett learns that she left him a tiny piece of land for his own, on Reata, which he refuses to sell back to Bick, preferring to keep it for his own and maybe prospect for oil on it. Meanwhile, Leslie and Bick have their own problems -- Leslie can't abide the wretched conditions in which the Mexican families who work on Reata are allowed to live, taking a special interest in Mr. and Mrs. Obregon and their baby, Angel; but Bick doesn't want his wife, or any member of his family, concerning themselves with "those people." Leslie's humanity and her independence push their marriage to the limit, but Bick comes to accept this in his wife, and in four years of marriage they have three handsome children, a boy and two girls, and a loving if occasionally awkward home life. Meanwhile, Jett strikes oil on his land -- which he's named Little Reata -- and in a couple of years he's on his way to becoming the richest man in Texas, getting drilling contracts on all of the land in the area (except Reata) and making more money than the Benedicts ever saw from raising cattle. Bick is almost oblivious to the way Jett grows in power and influence across the years and the state, mostly because he's got his own family to worry about, including a son, Jordan III (Dennis Hopper), who doesn't want to take over the ranch from him, but wants instead to be a doctor; an older daughter, Judy (Fran Bennett), who wants to study animal husbandry and marry a local rancher (Earl Holliman) and start a tiny spread of her own; and a younger daughter, Luz (Carroll Baker), who's just a bit man-crazy and star-struck by the movies.The American entry into the Second World War and the resulting need for oil forces Bick to go into business with Jett and allow him to drill on Reata, and suddenly the Benedicts are wealthy enough to be part of Jett Rink's circle, which includes the governor of the state and at least one United States senator at his beck and call -- and Luz develops a serious crush on Jett, who likes his women young and is especially attracted to her, as Bick's and Leslie's daughter. Young Jordan marries Juana, a Mexican-American nursing student (Elsa Cardenas), and his father accepts it begrudgingly, with help from Leslie. The war kills Angel Obregon (Sal Mineo), a death that even affects Bick, but the Benedict family gets through it wealthier than ever and grows some more with the birth of Jordan IV to Jordie and Juana. When the family attends a gala opening of Jett Rink Airport, which concludes with a dinner honoring Jett's success, however, young Jordan's wife is humiliated by Jett's racist edicts, and he is beaten up by Jett's men after punching the oil baron. Seeing this, Bick challenges his old rival to the fight that's been brewing for a quarter of a century and wins by default, Jett being too drunk to defend himself or to hit; he's also too drunk to make the grand speech that was to climax the celebration, and he ends up alone in the ballroom. The Benedicts have it out with each other, young Jordan accusing his father of being as much a racist as Jett, and Leslie caught in the middle between her husband and her son. It looks like the Benedicts may lose each other, until an encounter with a racist diner owner forces Bick to stand up and get knocked down (more than once) defending his daughter-in-law and his grandson. Seen today, Giant seems the least dated of any of James Dean's three starring films, in part because it addresses issues that remain relevant more than 50 years later, and also because it has the best all-around acting and the best script of any of the three. Taken in broader terms, it's even better, with two of the best performances that Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson ever gave, and perhaps the second best of Hudson's whole career (after Seconds) -- the only unfortunate element at modern theatrical screenings is the tendency of younger viewers, who only know him in terms of the revelations late in his life of his being gay, to laugh and snicker at elements of Hudson's characterization; but his work is so good that the titters usually fade after the first 30 minutes or so. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi … More
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Critic Reviews for Giant
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.
Much of it is awful, but it's almost impossible not to be taken in by the narrative sprawl.
Stevens' sprawling epic of Texan life, taken from Edna Ferber's novel, strives so hard for Serious Statements that it ends up as a long yawn.
A real movie is big, grand, magnificent and regales you with all the power that movies can wield upon a viewer's imagination and spirit. George Stevens' 1956 production, Giant, is a real movie.
Giant, for all its complexity, is a strong contender for the year's top-film award.
At 202 minutes, it's just too long, yet it has the pull of nostalgia (if you're of a certain age) and sustains its emotional impact as a portrait of a durable marriage.
The combination of director George Stevens and source novelist Edna Ferber, both given to expressions of overblown high seriousness, yields a long, slow, achingly self-important movie.
This ambitious adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel is often touched by greatness, yet it's ultimately too scattershot to satisfactorily maintain its bloated 200-minute running time.
Its deeper themes and superb performances from Taylor, Hudson and Dean make it a classic Hollywood epic.
Dean's last performance is poetry in motion.
Some critics consider Giant to too bloated and sprawling, but by its era's standards, it exposed idelogical cracks in the American Dream, the myth of melting pot, women's allotted place in society.
For a reason I cannot fathom, Giant still has a reputation as a fine film, and it will no doubt go on boring audiences forever and a day.
Old-fashioned life-of-a-family pic that's like nothing you'll see today -- and I mean that in the best way possible.
Overrated, overlong, and marred by some of the worst old age make-up ever seen.
A decent sprawling family epic. Surprised somebody hasn't remade it for television.
Offers a lively portrait of a marriage that weathers all storms and evolves over time into something more than it was at the outset.
Audience Reviews for Giant
A film that lives up to its title, truly grand in scope and (unfortunately) in length. Though it's beautiful to look at and though the acting - particularly by James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor - is quite accomplished, many scenes don't do a lot to advance the plot, and many subplots come off as extraneous. I liked that this was a sort of love letter to Texas, a take-it-or-leave-it account of the frontier spirit and the state's growing pains, and the concern for what happens when that trail-blazing mentality becomes cold competition two or three generations down the line. The film was setting up to be a tragedy, and almost delivered in a way that would've made American Shakespeare of it, but it opted for the anti-racism angle in the end; though I'm sure that broke ground in 1956, assessing it from a story standpoint instead of a social one, the ending - in fact, the last half-hour or more - gets away from what the story was about: ambition. The film is in a way a lot like its central character, falling flat on its face in the end due to its grandiose objectives, but to sustain my attention for over three hours, it had to have done something right. Just compelling enough to not turn off, and something you should make yourself watch, but it's wishy-washy for an epic and it's just not all that it's cracked up to be.More
George Stevens is lucky he made this when he did, since I doubt he'd have been able to get away with making a film that favored storytelling over running time in this day and age.
Yeah, that's right, this sucker is 210 gloriously excessive minutes of soapy melodrama on a grand scale, covering the lives of a few generations of rivalry and love between old money Texas cattle barons and new money Texas oil tycoons during the early 20th Century. It touches upon an interesting bit of Texas history, and deals with issues of racism, classism, and female independence as well, although these last three issues don't come as revolutionary like they did in 1956.
This is a sprawling film, and, though it does have some really good moments, I hesitate to call it a classic. It's overlong (in places), really soppy and melodramatic, a bit dated, and doesn't have the weight it could. I sure as hell dug the production aspects though, that's for sure. This sucker as great cinematography, wonderful sets and costumes, decent music, and some excellent shooting locations.
Oh yeah, and the performances are pretty decent, too. You've got young Elizabeth Taylor putting in some solid work, a decent turn from Rock Hudson, and James Dean in his final film (he died a few days after he finished shooting his scenes) knocking it out of the park in a very histrionic performance as the rugged rogue. There's also young Dennis Hopper and scene stealing Mercedes McCambridge.
All in all, a decent film, but nothing truly remarkable beyond the surface. It's definitely deserving of the title epic though, even if it is fluff.
A brave, and epic film for its time. You cannot help but be amazed by its bold message, it's strong acting, and the amount of issues he tackles in this film.More
It might not be one of the greatest movies ever made, but it's sure important. While it might appear to be a love story on the outer shell, this is really about class structure and racism. Elizabeth Taylor's crusade as a humanitarian stretches over 25 years, as does her struggle with her marriage and family life. When you look at James Dean's Jett, all he wanted to do was to become as rich and powerful as Bick so he could win the heart of Leslie when that was something she never admired about her husband to begin with. All the side-characters, scenery, thickness and rich storytelling really pays off. You almost feel like a Benedict by the end of the movie. The conclusion in the diner is one of the greatest and most rewarding build ups in movie history.More
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