Thursday, July 2, 2015

AFI Top 100, #82: "Giant" (1956)

Movie Stats:
Released 1956 (USA)
American, in English (some Spanish, mostly non-translated)
Director - George Stevens (who also gave us A Place in the Sun)
Stars - Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean

Plot Summary:
When Texas rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. (Hudson) goes to Maryland to buy a horse, he meets and quickly marries beautiful firebrand Leslie (Taylor). This is the story of their lives together. Dean co-stars as Bick’s ranch hand, Jet Rink.

Minor (fight-related) violence; use of racial slurs.

Bad Stuff:
God save me from schmaltzy 1950s soundtracks. Ugh.

This is one of the most unnecessarily long movies on the planet (3 hours, 20 minutes). Watching it is a test of both endurance and perseverance. Even the kids in the final scene have “Is this thing over yet?” written all over their faces.

Bick is extremely unlikable, and doesn’t improve with age. Actually, I didn’t like Leslie much either. (Nor do I like Jet but he’s supposed to be unlikable.) It’s hard to root for the Benedict family when the parents are mostly insufferable. Not sure how they managed to raise some great kids (except for Luz [Carroll Baker], she kind of sucks too, but then so did her namesake, Bick's sister Luz [Mercedes McCambridge]).

Good Stuff:
This is my favorite of James Dean’s performances.

Great make-up work to age Hudson and Taylor as the movie progresses. Their character development as they aged was good too.

I do like that it’s not all sunshine and puppies. The story of Bick and Leslie feels fairly realistic, with good times and bad.

The Verdict:
True story. I spent my junior year of college in Germany, where I took a class called “The History of Texas.” During the course of the class, the instructor had us watch “The Alamo” (John Wayne version), a David Byrne movie (I think, “True Stories”), and “Giant.” I loved this class, my hands-down favorite of all the ones I took there. I made some really great friends in that class, including Matt, an American grad student and punk rocker, and Doro, a super cool German lady. Matt introduced us to his Finnish friend Demo, and all of us had a lot of fun together. But I digress.

Due to my happy memories of the class and my friends, I nostalgically watched “Giant” again about four years ago. I was appalled to discover how painfully boring it is. When it came time to review it for my AFI project, I was dismayed to realize that I didn’t remember enough of it to feel confident about writing a decent review. What to do? I procrastinated for weeks before finally giving in and re-watching it. My compromise was that I did other things while it was on.

The problem with movies that are fairly realistic is that they tend to be pretty dull. “Giant” is simply too long and unexciting. Watching a film shouldn’t feel like a form of punishment. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the worst movie I’ve ever seen. There’s just not much about it that I find especially remarkable. I do think that it was rather progressive for its time, particularly in its treatment of racism against Mexicans, but by today’s standards there are a lot of other things that are rather cringe-inducing. I don’t know, even if you’ve got 3+ hours to waste, I wouldn’t say you should waste them on this, unless you want to see a very young, clean-cut Dennis Hopper (as Jordan Benedict III), although I don’t think he appears until about 2 hours in. 

I give it 2.75 stars.


Patricia said...

Well, the things you do for a cause.

I think my favorite part of the review was the reminiscing. It's nice that good memories can be attached to such a boring movie.

balyien said...

I need to choose my next movie project wisely. I discovered that after AFI released their list, a well-known critic released his own Top 100 because he thought the AFI's list was crap. I was considering doing his list next, but then I took a look at it and it was painfully pretentious, so I'm taking a pass on it. I need to come up with something fun for my next one. I'm getting a bit sick of the "classics."

Patricia said...

I've been contemplating this list for some time now:

balyien said...

200 is A LOT of movies, but I'm intrigued. Will consider this list.