Revisiting the George Stevens 1956 “Giant”: Much more than just a Western

Featuring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, this Epic sends a very important message concerning racism and civil rights that still speaks to people today

Revisiting the George Stevens 1956 “Giant”: Much more than just a Western

It’s of common knowledge that during the 1950’s the racial and social tensions escalated in the U.S.A, perhaps was the first time in decades that the population of the country became outspoken and divided about those important issues, and surprisingly, it remains today a “work in progress” despite decades of historical civil rights movements.

George Stevens, brilliantly directed the “Giant” defying the 1950’s American wide white audiences, many for the first time, to take a minute to think about civil rights, a subject not common to touch in movies, specially a gigantic Warner Bros picture with a top cast.
Based on the Edna Ferbel novel, “Giant” takes place in Texas, and one of the things that makes this a timeless movie, it’s how it shows the contrasts of wealth and the poverty and pride and prejudice, which, curiously, reflects the same Texas of today (or the same society of the days we are living). With a stunning photograph featuring breathtaking panoramic shots of the dusty Texas plains, this Western Epic, runs for a fully three hours and 18 minutes, and never gets dull. Stevens cleverly send an important message to the audiences: the reality of the American Dream, where people scaled the economic ladder from rancher to millionaire almost overnight, as they still do today, using a disguised (but also obvious) criticism at times, an unflattering portrayal of it.
Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) it’s a Texas rancher who meets the young and beautiful Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) in Maryland. Though strongwilled, she accepts moving to a dusty Texas to be next to her now husband Bick. There, she clashes with a new reality: prejudice, and also the sexy and flirty ranchhand Jett Rink (James Dean). As the years pass by, Leslie grows more outspoken of the civil rights of Mexican laborers; these tensions come to a higher peak and are more obvious as Bick and Leslie’s son, played by Dennis Hopper, marries a Mexican girl, and the whole family needs now to deal with a whole society build on racism and prejudice. After finding oil in his minuscule plot, Jett quickly grows ambitious, wanting to become bigger and richer than Bick, however, he realizes the only thing he wants from Bick he can’t never have, which is Leslie, and eventually, across the years, he becomes bigger and richer than Bick, but also a heavy drinker and a bitter man.
“Giant” features brillant performances from the whole cast, but the lead actors, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, mold their complicated characters individually, using their own personal vein and acting skills to deliver amazing performances. This was the third major picture of James Dean, and also his last. If in his two previous movies, the 1954 “East Of Eden” and 1955 “Rebel Without A Cause” he already had given enough proves of an unusual talent, in “Giant”, Dean takes his performance to next level. He portrays Jett brilliantly across the years, starting as a dirt poor young man, and ending as the most powerful man in Texas, drunk and eaten by a lifetime of jealousy and hate. Sadly, Dean never lived to see the premiere of “Giant”. The movie premiered on October 10, 1956 in New York City, a little bit more than one year after Dean’s death aged 24 on September 30, 1955 after completing the shooting of the movie. He earned a second Oscar nomination (in a row) for Best Actor, alongside Rock Hudson. Director George Stevens was awarded the Oscar for Best Director.
“Giant”, maybe it’s still generally seen as a Western Epic, but, the message on it is so much more than that, it’s something that matters today. It’s not only the timeless appeal of James Dean, his iconic image, figure, it’s also the timeless and relevant historical and social history that Stevens cleverly told the audiences back in the 1950’s and still does today.

Origin: United States
Released: 1956
Directed by: George Stevens
Starring: Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Dennis Hopper

Watch the 1956 movie trailer of “Giant”

Watch one of the most famous scenes in “Giant”, when Jett Rink finds oil and confronts Bick, featuring James Dean and Rock Hudson

Also watch: James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor’s scene from “Giant”

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