#82 Giant (1956)
So it’s been months and months since I last wrote here. What took so long? Well, I decided to watch Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, and it just ended.
I’m kidding of course. But God was that a chore. Giant clocks in at 3.5 hours. Three. Point. Five. Hours. Think about how long that is. We’re talking extended edition long, here. There are very few movies that need to be this long. Very, very few. For what it does in the course of its narrative, Giant is one of these few films, I suppose. It spans 30 years in the lives of wealthy Texan rancher Jordan Benedict Jr. (Hudson) and his spirited East Coast wife Leslie (Taylor) as they meet, fall in love, have kids, and grow old.
So it’s got a few strikes against it already as far as I’m concerned. First of all, it’s too long. Second of all, it’s a western. Not in the same way that Shane is, to be fair. But they are in Texas, there are cowboys, Hudson is a rancher, James Dean is an oil prospector; it’s a western, all right. So it’s going to have to do a lot to interest me. And unfortunately, it just doesn’t.
I’ll give the screenwriters credit for keeping a tight rein on the story. If your script is going to cover three decades, it’s very easy for things to get confusing. But it was very easy to keep track of the characters and they were all well drawn. (And it’s breathtakingly beautiful in places, with a particularly beautiful Texan sky marking the landscape during a touching burial scene.)
At its core though, Giant is a Texan soap opera. Which could be interesting, but the kind of melodramatic twists and turns that usually spice up (and dumb down) stories like this up just don’t arrive. Or if they do, they come way too late and don’t deliver. I thought for sure that I was about to watch a tortured love triangle featuring Hudson, Taylor and Dean, but that’s not what this movie is about. I thought for sure I was going to watch the very outspoken Taylor challenge the traditional wild west status quo with her progressive east coast views on women’s rights and racial equality. She does, and her husband doesn’t like it at first. He gets a little upset one night because of her behavior, but doesn’t do anything rash like you’d expect from a soap. Instead he sort of rolls with it, and by the end the combined efforts of his wife and son succeed in changing his racist old west views. Which is great, but remember this movie is 3.5 hours long.
This will sound terrible, but this movie may have been a little more enjoyable for me if there were a bit more violence in it. Maybe I’m being prejudiced against the west here, but that’s what I want to see when I’m watching a western. I want to see some guns going off and some face punching. God knows I hated Shane, but at least some people got knocked out in that. Rock Hudson gets his ass kicked by a racist in a diner at the end, but his character is like 70 years old by then. Not exactly thrilling. Hudson and Dean exchange a few punches after Dean strikes oil, but it’s nothing to write home about. Let’s see. A drunken elderly Dean punches Dennis Hopper in the face while he’s being held back by a couple of lackeys. Not exciting. Hopper throws a bottle of booze into a mirror at one point. That woke me up. Also Hudson trashes one of Dean’s liquor rooms, knocking over rows and rows of booze with a deafening smash. That was neat. But that’s like one violent scene for every hour of movie. It’s just not good enough.
James Dean starts off as a surly, bitter farm hand working for Hudson, but ends as a filthy rich oil tycoon and Hudson’s hated rival. Oh who cares. My god this movie was so long. They cast all these really young, famous actors in it, and had to use all this makeup and other movie tricks to make them look like they aged over thirty years. So by the end James Dean is all gray-headed and Liz Taylor has got lines and bags all over her face. In the time it took me to watch this, I grew a beard.
There’s a great Thanksgiving scene in which Taylor takes the kids back to Maryland for the holiday. The kids feed a turkey called Pedro. When the servant brings the bird to the table on a platter, this kids ask “Is that Pedro?” There was some explosive crying on their part, and some explosive laughter on mine.
So to summarize, Giant is a great film because of its subtlety and depth, but I would have actually liked it if it had dumbed it down with a little more violence and yee-haw. Hmm. Maybe that’s what this movie is about? How oil and big business brought about the end of the exciting old west? Hmm…
Final thought: if nothing else, this movie made me hungry. And for breakfast in particular. I mean just look at that spread.