Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Leslie Benedict), Rock Hudson (Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr.), James Dean (Jett Rink), Carroll Baker (Luz Benedict II), Jane Withers (Vashti Snythe), Chill Wills (Uncle Bawley), Dennis Hopper (Jordan Benedict III)
Director: George Stevens
My rating: 8.5 / 10
An ambitious epic that follows the ups and downs of a Texans family over a quarter century when wealthy Texas rancher Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) shakes things up at home when he returns from a trip to the East Coast with his new wife the free thinking and refined Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor). Leslie gets the attention of ambitious young farm hand Jett Rink (James Dean) which leads to Bick and Jett forming a tense rivalry that continues to surface as the years pass and fortunes change in this sweeping drama.
What’s to Like
The grand scale of this movie, Rock Hudson’s acting, the Texan outback.
What’s not to Like
The causal racism throughout to Mexicans even if it eventually gets addressed.
Giant follows life on the Reata Ranch of the Benedict family for over a quarter century. Life is hard on this cattle ranch when first introduced. The newly arrived Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), who is our protagonist, struggles with the weather, the casual racism, and the Texan way of life after being raised in more gentle Maryland.
Giant goes to great pains to illustrate the callous discrimination faced by women and Mexican-descended Texans. “Real Texan men” often regarded women as almost property and Mexicans as sub-humans. Even kindly Uncle Bawley (Chill Wills) doesn’t think Leslie should be involved in political discussions with the men.
Bick (Rock Hudson) has the greatest character arc of this lengthy movie. He is charming at first especially when seeking Leslie’s affections, but dismissive of her thoughts and efforts to be more involved in the running of the ranch. Bick even forces his young son to ride a horse he clearly doesn’t want to as he tried to mould him into the future master of the ranch. But Bick does slowly change, he see a ‘Mexican’ boy grow into a man who serves his country in war dying for others. He sees his growth up son marry a Mexican the discrimination they both watch, and finally at the end of his journey he gets into a fight when he witness a Mexican family being refused service at a cafe near his ranch. Having a mixed heritage grand-son being home the racism can be devastating, his wife Leslie has changed him over the many years.
Leslie is not a subservient wife, she is spirited and has many opinions. She brings medical assistance to a poor village, she is kind to Jett even when he isn’t to her husband. Leslie is kind to Mexican servants and tries to get along with Bick’s protective sister. Leslie’s independence is seen in raising their children, she even leaves Bick and returns to Maryland for a time which is another push for Bick to modernise his thinking.
This is also James Dean’s last starring movie before his untimely death. At first you are almost rooting for him to succeed, a farm hand just trying to get by, but when he is bequeathed some land from Bick’s deceased sister he starts on a path to financial success when oil is found. This financial success doesn’t allow him to grow as a character, he appears to expect finances will get him the love and respect he wants but does little to deserve. The low point is when he attempts a relationship with Bick and Leslie’s young daughter and gets blind drunk at a celebration for his great successes when opening and airport and hotel.
You don’t really see movies like this anymore, the grand scale of a quarter century storytelling. The movie goes for over 3 hours but you still feel it is rushed at points as some much is happening in their lives. You really need to pay attention to notice the time jumps. Both Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor are amazing over the length of this movie, going from young newlyweds to elderly married couple and me believing they are as old as the character they play over the big time period.
That wealth doesn’t alone bring you happiness is a theme that has proven true a lot with instant millionaires and billionaire over the last 20 years which somewhat makes this movie still feel relevant to today. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning 1 for Best Director, you can easily see why this was a classic very glad I got to watch this movie.
- Best Director (George Stevens) – winner
- Best Picture (George Stevens & Henry Ginsberg) – nominee
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Dean) – nominee
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Rock Hudson) – nominee
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge) – nominee
- Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted (Fred Guiol & Ivan Moffat) – nominee
- Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Boris Leven & Ralph S. Hurst) – nominee
- Best Costume Design, Color (Moss Mabry & Marjorie Best) – nominee
- Best Film Editing (William Hornbeck, Philip W. Anderson, Fred Bohanan) – nominee
- Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin) – nominee