Tuesday, March 6, 2012
(November 1956, U.S.)
I watch almost no television. I think it's all crap! Ironically, though, I was a TV addict as a kid. I watched nearly everything that was broadcasted, and in the 1980s there was nothing greater, in my opinion, than DALLAS on CBS-TV. It wouldn't be until many years later that I'd discover that George Steven's epic drama GIANT was a strong precursor to the long running TV series. Cattle herds, oil, money, power, greed and lust as great as the state of Texas itself. Yes, it would seem that GIANT was, indeed, DALLAS before DALLAS ever went on the air.
I've visited Texas twice in my life (first Dallas, second Austin), but only really got to the cities and the suburbs. Anything I may have seen of the vast open praries and dry plains I would have seen only (as much as I hate to admit) on TV's DALLAS and movies like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) and GIANT. From the first time we see the estate of the wealthy Benedict ranching family, we're witnessing a large mansion in the middle of nearly half a million acres of beautiful open country that director John Ford would have been proud of. Take a look at the image behind James Dean to get an idea...
The character of Jordan "Bick" Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) is about as "Mr. Texas" as audiences were likely to see on screen or anywhere else until the character of J.R. Ewing was created. At the film's beginning, he's traveling to Maryland for the simple purpose of purchasing a stud horse. Lo and behold, though, he meets Leslie (played by Elizabeth Taylor) and within only DAYS, he's bringing her back to Texas with him as his new bride (I know love can work fast, but GEEZ!). Upon arrival, Leslie is immediately expected to act like and perform as a "Texan", which seemingly includes early wake-ups, barbecues, the unbaearable hot sun and a certain degree of prejudice toward the Mexican cattle workers and house attendants (remember, this is the early part of the 20th century). She adapts quickly to all things "Texan" except for the elements of prejudice. Leslie has a heart of good intentions toward the less-fortunate Mexicans and exercises her will to help them, even at the disapproval of her husband.
But now let's talk about the REAL reason GIANT is likely popular with audiences - two words...James Dean. This film was the last of his three films as a leading actor before he was killed in a car accident. His brooding presence and intense performance, as any Dean fan or fan of classic films will tell you, speaks for itself as the kind that solidified his reputation in Hollywood. Like EAST OF EDEN and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE before it, Dean seems perfectly fit as a small-town, small time character who will seek to rise above his imperfections to show up and defeat those around him who would seek to keep him down. In GIANT, Jett Rink (Dean) start off as merely a simple ranch hand who's lucky enough to inherit some property of his own on the great Benedict estate. After that, it only takes one great gusher to set him on a course that will inevitable make him one of (if not THE) most wealthy and powerful men in Texas. Unfortunately, wealth and power only serve to intensify Rink's attitude and reputation as a complete asshole!
Time itself is an important factor in this film and just because it's the epic tale of a family. Time expresses physical changes in the home and the landscape as simple luxuries like grass and a swimming pool inevitably come along into their lives. More important, though, are the hard-ass attitudes that eventually soften up. Jordan expresses his expectations that his son Jordy (played by a young Dennis Hopper) should one day take his proper place as head of the ranch. That conviction eases as he matures with time (and with pressure from his wife). His prejudices towards Mexicans eases, as well, when Jordy marries a Mexican girl and gives him a Mexican grandson. His (Jordan's) reputation and manhood are put to the test when he must defend his family's honor against a racist cafe owner who refuses service to Mexicans. As his wife later tells him, despite his wealth, power and conviction, never did he appear to be more of a real man in her eyes than when he was getting his ass kicked by the cook and falling into the salad. Go figure.
Okay, so now a personal story. One of my former employers in architecture whom I will call Mike (because that's really his name) is also someone I'm proud to still call a distant friend and a man of Texas, born and bred. He's living there again now in a town called Marfa (that's where GIANT and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN were filmed on location!). His stories of his childhood and life in Texas were fun and entertaining, to say the least, when I was working with him. I can specifically remember returning from Austin and telling him of the public barbecue stands I'd seen in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I remember he smiled graciously, but really, it was like telling the Pope a story about Jesus Christ! So, it's to Mike that I dedicate this blog post about the great state of Texas. Mike, if you're reading this, I can only hope this Jewish man from Long Island got it right...just a little.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jett Rink: "Everybody thought I had a duster. Y'all thought ol' Spindletop Burke and Burnett was all the oil there was, didn't ya? Well, I'm here to tell you that it ain't, boy! It's here, and there ain't a dang thing you gonna do about it! My well came in big, so big, Bick and there's more down there and there's bigger wells. I'm rich, Bick. I'm a rich 'un. I'm a rich boy. Me, I'm gonna have more money than you ever THOUGHT you could have - you and all the rest of you stinkin' sons of...Benedicts!"