I have always known James Dean to be an icon of the screen, but ironically had never seen any of the three movies he made in his tragically short career, except for maybe a few scenes from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.
Warner Bros. recently released gorgeous remastered Blu-Rays of all three films individually and as a box set. I decided to start with EAST OF EDEN and it far exceeded my expectations.
I honestly was expecting something far more melodramatic given that the film was made in 1955, but it maintained a fairly grounded tone and much of this is due to Dean’s breakout performance.
Much like Brando, it’s very clear that he was a talented and quite gifted actor who brought a much-needed new voice to film.
Based on the final third of John Steinbeck’s epic novel, EAST OF EDEN is a pre- World War I retelling of Cain and Abel. Cal (James Dean) and his brother Aron (Dick Davalos) are the sons of a Northern Californian lettuce farmer Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Trask sees himself as a righteous man, but this is not reflected in the way he treats his sons.
He clearly sees Aron as the favorite and Cal as the prodigal son. This has made Cal very bitter but all he wants is to win the love of his father and is willing to go to extremes to prove his worth especially after his father looses a large sum of money on a scheme to refrigerate lettuce for long distance train travel that goes bust.
Adding an additional wedge is Abra (Julie Harris). She is betrothed to Aron but finds that her true feelings are for Cal. As in the biblical tale, things don’t go well from Aron and Cal as the U.S. finally enters the war.
Directed by Elia Kazan (check out the MOVIE A DAY review of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE), EAST OF EDEN is epic as well as heartbreaking. It strips off the surface layer to expose the hypocrisy within all of us and doesn’t sugar coat it. There are moments of raw emotion that are incredibly intense and effective.Nominated for Best Actor for the film, I was not prepared for how electric Dean was on screen and I can now see why he influenced a new generation of actors that is still seen today with the likes of Brad Pitt, James Franco and Matthew McConaughy to name just a few.
EAST OF EDEN is a great film and was a perfect one to watch as an introduction to James Dean. I plan to watch GIANT soon.
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