“a significant American tome that takes us through an elemental learning-curve of open-mindness
George Steven’s epic western GIANT, based on Edna Ferber’s roman-fleuveabout a wealthy Texas rancherhousehold that spans over decades, rightfully won him a second Oscar for BEST DIRECTOR, but this is the sole trophy out of the picture’s 10 nominations (although Mercedes McCambridge’s coattail nomination is a fluke in hindsight, she has nothing to wield but a frosty front), mostly lost out to Michael Anderson’s less time-honored AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956), another taint forever besmirches the Academy’s credibility.
The couple under the limelight is Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. (Hudson), the said rancher and his wife Leslie Lynnton (Taylor), a socialite from Maryland, who must adapt herself to the a completely different lifestyle but never flinches from her modern view of treating their Mexican employees (yes, they are referred as wetbacks) with equal respect, which collides with Bick’s more entrenched racist frame of mind, and this “progressive East Coast vs. traditional Western Inland" leitmotif maintains as the pillar of the film and later evolves into Bick’s epic defeat of his paternalistic arrangement in relation to their three children. Throughout, it is Bick’s glacial change of his old-world attitude that flourishes during all the long years, Rock Hudson gives an endearingly no-nonsense impersonation that not unlike his first name, becomes a bedrock of the film, a pretense-free Texan learns to brave a new world that beyond his widest imagination and eventually transmutes into a better person, a titular “giant” in the end, even he is beaten up for standing up for the right cause, why it is so inspiring because it is a personal victory, and means the world to them, good deeds must be carried out no matter how formidable adversity looks, who can refute that?
Taylor, on the other hand, dazzles in Leslie’s bluff honesty and impeccable integrity that makes us root for her right out of box, Leslie’s life orbit is less tectonic, but incredibly, both she and Hudson acquit themselves convincingly under their senior makeup, to parent fresh-faces like Dennis Hopper and Carrol Baker,and a strong sense of affinity between the two never get attenuated, not even during their not-so-infrequent spats.
Of course, the biggest selling point is James Dean in his final picture, although for sentimental reasons, he received his second posthumous Oscar nomination in the leading actor category, but his indecipherable upstart Jett Rink is a substantial supporting character in the whole picture, and he would be a shoo-in to win if he could have competed in the category where his character truly belongs, however, his name had already become too big a legend to be relegated at that point. His portrayal of Jett, emphatically registers a false layer of insouciance that defies operatics, vaguelymasks his touching vulnerability and troubling uneasiness towards the unattainable object of his desire, Leslie, whose footprint inadvertently strikes gold for him, but whose heart he can never conquer.
Thus, it is the black gold that sounds the death knell of the Western genre as we know it, Stevens and DP.William C. Melloremploy stunning imagery to exhibit the burgeoning modernization that invades the vastness where materialistic gain lies beneath and beckons, as an answer to the prior un-warped long shots which retain the Old West in its most august splendor, the cattle herd sequences, or the majestic take on Benedicts’ singular mansion for instance, but at the end of the day, it is the story’s sagacious message that transcends its racist, patriarchy milieu, and makes GIANT a culturally, historically and aesthetically significant American tome that takes us through an elemental learning-curve of open-mindness and righteousness that flouts the specious “winner takes it all” precept,without forging its tangy nostalgia for a bygone era.
referential entry: Stevens’ A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951, 8.1/10).