'Giant': THR's 1956 Review
On Oct. 10, 1956, prior to its theatrical bow, George Stevens' 195-minute epic Giant faced critics. The Hollywood Reporter's original review of the film, which nabbed 10 Academy Award nominations, is below.
The George Stevens Production of Giant for Warners, which Stevens also directed, is a monumental drama as big and inspiring as the locale for which it is named, Texas. Giant in size, giant in ambition, giant in the human emotions that are generated by the massive forces of nature and human development that make up the peculiarly American sub-nation, Texas, this picture readily takes its place with the handful of screen epics. Even its running time is tremendous, three hours and a quarter with no planned intermission, and your reaction to that is likely to be highly personal.
For this reviewer, after two hours without a break the law of diminishing returns begins to operate, the human mind and the human frame being capable of absorbing just so much without an opportunity for refreshment or relief, of mind as well as body. This is no special criticism of George Stevens, whose brand is on every frame of this great picture, including a fine performance from Elizabeth Taylor, great acting from Rock Hudson and a piercing portrayal from James Dean. Giant stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the great ones.
Screenplay Superior to Novel
The screenplay by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat seems superior to Edna Ferber's novel, although this capable writer's special talent for unusual characterization is the solid basis on which the picture is built. Elizabeth Taylor is a beautiful and genteel daughter of aristocratic Virginians who marries Rock Hudson, a very rich Texan who is as ruggedly untamed as the land he owns in large acreage. The story covers about a generation as Miss Taylor attempts to blend her eastern culture with the western vigor of Texas in a period when the great state exploded in all directions of immense wealth and prosperity.
As a counterpart to the somewhat leisurely cattle-raising of this family there is the sudden emergence of oil and the fantastic riches it brings overnight. Representing this newer wealth, with its initial lack of responsibility, is James Dean, sometimes vulgar, often pathetic, but always dynamic as the Texas gushers he uncaps.
There is also the story of human relationships and human responsibility in problems arising out of the Mexican population who, as Miss Taylor points out in her eastern innocence, first owned Texas anyway. The problems of discrimination are brought home very well when a son of this baronial family marries a Mexican girl and they have a child. It is good writing that makes Hudson no more reconciled at the end to the fact that his grandson looks like a Mexican. A grandfather wants his progeny to look like him. But the problem is faced frankly; it is part of history and Giant in a very genuine way has the drumbeat of contemporary history.
Miss Taylor gives a fine performance, lilting in youth and sturdy in age, suggesting the latter much better through her own acting ability than through the overdone makeup. Rock Hudson is powerful in perhaps the best portrayal of his career, a real acting job that gets under the skin of the character and gives substance to the most important single role in the picture.
Carroll Baker is very good as their daughter and manifests a real screen personality that will be interesting to see in a part that is less overwhelmed by so vast a canvas. Jane Withers is splendid in a character role and Chill Wills gives his customary warmth and understanding to a key part. Mercedes McCambridge is incisive and Sal Mineo touching in his brief scenes. Dennis Hopper and Elsa Cardenas are fine as the son and daughter-in-law of the two principals, young Hopper especially showing considerable power in scenes where he must dominate his seniors. Judith Evelyn, Paul Fix, Fran Bennett and Earl Holliman are others in the huge cast who give particularly vivid portrayals.
As for James Dean, there is no doubt that his death has added poignancy to his every appearance. But there is nothing macabre about it, he is too vital; it is easy to see why the fact of his passing is so hard to accept by so many. Stevens had directed him beautifully, taking full advantage of Dean's unusual ability to act with his whole body as much as with his voice or face. A single scene, where Dean paces out the first land he has ever owned, is unforgettable. Shot from below, with only Dean's expressive silhouette seen against the sky, it has rhythm and beauty and says more than a thousand words could.
Dual Credit for Fred Guiol
Fred Guiol served as second unit director as well as getting half the screenplay credit and in such a capacity it is difficult to assess credit. William C. Mellor was director of photography with Edwin DuPar as second unit man, and together they have done a great job. Stevens chose to present this story in the old aspect ratio, 1.66. The eye has become so accustomed to the broader screen that the projection seems unusually tall and thus has many advantages for what Stevens wanted to do.
Dimitri Tiomkin has contributed one of his most imaginative and helpful scores, gay, melodic, stirring and ironic by turns. It has depth and it has wit, two important and seldom-realized values. Boris Leven as production designer has done a masterful job, especially in the great Victorian mansion on the Texas plains and its interiors, which change in decor with the human character changes. Marjorie Best's costumes, and those for Miss Taylor by Moss Mabry, are good. Ralph Hurst as set decorator and sound by Earl Crain, Sr., are good contributions, and editing by William Hornbeck, with associates Fred Bohanan and Phil Anderson, also is good. — James Powers, originally published Oct. 10, 1956.