Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper
Oscar Wins: Best Director (George Stevens)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Dean), Best Actor (Rock Hudson), Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge), Best Adapted Screenplay (Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Boris Leven, Ralph S. Hurst), Best Costume Design, Color (Moss Mabry, Marjorie Best), Best Film Editing (William Hornbeck, Philip W. Anderson, Fred Bohanan), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin)
SUMMARY: In the 1920s, Texan rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Rock Hudson) travels to Maryland to buy a horse named War Winds. While there, he meets Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), who regards War Winds as her own horse. Though Leslie is involved with a British diplomat named Sir David Karfrey, she breaks things off with him to marry Bick. The couple, along with War Winds, returns to Reata, the huge Benedict family ranch. While Bick runs the ranch, his unmarried older sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) runs the house, and quickly butts heads with Leslie. Most of the ranch staff is made of Mexican immigrants, with the exception of Jett Rink (James Dean). While Jett and Luz have a good relationship, he and Bick cannot stand each other. Jett angers Bick when he takes Leslie to see the small village where the Mexican workers live. Leslie is horrified at the condition the people are living in, and tries to convince Bick to change things. However, Bick is unconcerned about the welfare of his workers, and derogatory toward them in general (much to the irritation of Leslie). This attitude also grates further on Luz, who confronts both Leslie and Bick about her role in the household. She then takes War Winds for a ride, digging in her spurs in an attempt to control the highly spirited animal. She is thrown from the horse, and dies later that day; Bick later shoots the horse. In her will, Luz leaves a small piece of the Benedict land to Jett Rink. Bick attempts to buy the land back from Jett, but Jett decides to keep it, and immediately takes up residence there. Over time, he builds a small house on his property, which he calls “Little Reata”. During this time, Bick and Leslie have twins, a boy named Jordan (Dennis Hopper) and a girl named Judy (Fran Bennett). Later on, they have another daughter they name Luz (Carroll Baker). Bick breaks all contact with Jett, but Leslie continues to be sociable. After a visit from her one day, Jett discovers oil on his land, and starts to build a drill. He hits a huge oil deposit, and immediately drives to the Benedict house to tell them the good news. While there, Bick takes offense at the way Jett talks to Leslie (whom it is clear Jett is in love with), and punches him. Jett installs more and more drills on his land, and becomes richer and richer as the country approaches World War II. On several occasions he tries to buy Bick out, but Bick refuses to sell any of his land. Even though it is obvious that the area contains oil, Bick also refuses to install drills, insisting on maintaining a cattle ranch like his father and grandfather.
As their children grow up, they become a source of tension for Bick and Leslie. Bick has his heart set on “Jordy” running the ranch, but it becomes clear that Jordy has no interest in doing this. Instead, he wants to become a doctor, which both disappoints and disgusts Bick. His twin sister, Judy, is supposed to go to an elite school in Switzerland (as arranged by Leslie), but wants to go to Texas Tech and study animal husbandry. Furthermore, she has fallen in love with a local boy named Bob Dace, much to Leslie’s disappointment. Ultimately, both children follow their chosen careers: Jordy becomes a doctor, while Judy goes to college and marries Bob Dace. However, Bick has still not given up on the idea of Jordy running the ranch. When Jordy again refuses to do so, Bick tries to interest Bob Dace in the job, but Bob also turns him down. As a result, when Jett visits Bick he is able to convince him to install oil drills. During the visit, Jett also meets the youngest Benedict, Luz, who is obviously intrigued by him. As a result of the war, oil production is a booming business, and the Benedicts increase their already substantial wealth. In secret, Jordy marries Juana Guerra, the daughter of the doctor who works in the Mexican village. Both Judy and Jordy have children at about the same time, but while Judy’s daughter is blond and fair, Jordy’s son resembles his mother, with dark skin, eyes and hair. Though Bick doesn’t say anything, he is obviously troubled by his grandson’s appearance. Meanwhile, Jett has financed countless buildings in the area, including a hospital, airport and hotel. To dedicate the hotel and airport, a huge party is thrown. Despite the nasty relationship between Jett and Bick the Benedicts decide to attend. Just before they leave, Leslie and Bick learn that Luz has been secretly seeing Jett. Before the party, Jordy’s wife Juana is refused service in the hotel because she is of Mexican descent. Jordy is incensed, and confronts Jett at the party. Jett has his men hold onto Jordy, then punches him several times. This prompts Bick to get involved; the two men take their fight to the wine cellar, but when Bick realizes that Jett is drunk (his normal state by this time), he walks out. The Benedicts leave, but Jett returns to the party, only to pass out in his plate. Later, when Luz goes to find him, she hears him talking about her mother, and realizes that it is Leslie that he is (and has always been) in love with. Bick, Leslie, Luz, Juana and her son, Jordan IV, return home but stop at a local diner to have lunch. When the owner sees Juana and Jordan, he develops a hostile attitude, but amends it when he learns that the boy is Bick Benedict’s grandson. However, when another Mexican family comes in, the owner tells them to leave. Bick takes offense at this, and gets into a fistfight with the man. Back home, Bick tells Leslie that he is a failure, as nothing in his life turned out the way he planned it; Leslie surprises him by telling him that she was never prouder of him than when he fought (and lost to) the diner owner.
MY TAKE: Giant is an appropriate name for this movie, because it’s almost three and a half hours long. However, it covers about 25 years, so it doesn’t seem like that long; the beginning of Bick and Leslie’s takes up a while, but other than that, no one stage of their lives is focused on for very long. Instead, the movie shows the evolution of their relationship and family. Giant is also an appropriate name because Rock Hudson was 6’4”, at least a foot taller than Elizabeth Taylor. It’s interesting to see them age in the movie, because they really weren’t much (if any) older than the actors playing their children. The attitudes toward the immigrant workers was disappointing, but realistic, considering the time frame. It just surprised me that Bick, Jett and Luz would have such a derogatory attitude, since they had lived and worked among the immigrants for basically their entire lives. Even when Jordy marries Juana, Bick’s attitude doesn’t change much. Ultimately, it seems like he makes a choice not to discriminate, rather than having a true change of heart. There is some interesting trivia about this movie, along with a particularly sad note: this was James Dean’s last movie, and he died before production was completed. Another actor, Nick Adams, had to be brought in to voice some of Dean’s lines that couldn’t be heard in his scenes. On a more cheerful note, Rock Hudson was the reason Elizabeth Taylor got the part: Hudson was given the choice between Grace Kelly and Taylor. Towards the beginning of filming, Hudson and Taylor went out for drinks together, and both got rip-roaring drunk. They only came in two hours before their call time, but luckily they were filming the scene in which Leslie’s sister gets married. Neither had any lines in the scene, but were supposed to send loving glances at the other one. When you watch the movie, this appears to be what’s happening (they were so good they even made the set crew cry): in reality, both were focusing intently on not getting sick (barfing would definitely put a damper on the party).
RATING: Very good.