FROM MY OWN PRIVATE COLLECTION "Giant" (1956)

Not all classics are well-loved by everybody.

 

Ask around about Giant, and you're likely to get mixed reactions. While there are definitely those who love it, or those who at least like it (that would be me), others have their share of hangups.

 

It's too long. It plays too much like a soap opera. It's too overt with its messages about gender and racial rights.

 

Those are some of the most common complaints. And you know what? I don't necessarily disagree with them. Giant is very long (running about three and a half hours). And like most films made during the '30s, '40s, '50s and early '60s, yes, it is essentially a soap opera that doesn't offer much in the way of subtlety. Despite all that, however, it's still worth watching, and that's mostly due to the performances it boasts.

 

It isn't hard to like Rock Hudson or Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, it's pretty automatic, and they epitomize what it means to have great onscreen chemistry. Mercedes McCambridge, who received a well-earned Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, is one of the more interesting characters in the film, playing a rough Texan whose almost masculine demeanor could have easily paved the way for Robin Weigert's character on HBO's Deadwood.

 

But of course, the main attraction here is James Dean as Jett Rink. You may hear more praise for what he did in Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, but his performance here is without question my favorite and, in my opinion, it's his best. For whatever reason, he was placed in the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards. Had he been put in the right spot as a supporting player, I can almost guarantee you he would have won.

 

The DVD offers some of the best special features I've seen on any of Warner Bros. classic special edition discs. In addition to including commentary from the director's son, you've got footage from the New York and Hollywood premieres. The best things to check out are the two documentaries "Memories of Giant" and "Return to Giant." They really get into the production aspect of the film, and there's an interesting, in-depth look at how Dean's early death affected (and still affects) the people who met him.

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