George Steven’s Giant (1956) is a colossal soap opera set against the changing social landscape of Texas. Sure, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson are far too young to be believably cast as the tempestuous generational – though ultimately simpatico couple; Bick and Leslie Benedict. But in the versatile and visceral mutations of James Deans’ all-too-brief filmic legacy; the character of Jett Rink emerges as ruthlessly charming, so palpably engaged that his character easily eclipses his scant 24 years morphed into 60 through brilliant make-up and performance.
The story begins when Leslie (Taylor) – a sultry gal from Maryland - falls in love with strapping cattle rancher, Bick Benedict (Hudson). She marries him without realizing the great cultural divide that separate their sensibilities and is shortly thereafter put upon by Bick’s possessive sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge).
But Luz is unprepared for Leslie’s resilience, a miscalculation that literally kills her when she is thrown from Leslie’s horse after brutalizing it with her spurs. The rest of the film, based on Edna Ferber’s controversial best seller degenerates along the lines of a perverse lover’s triangle as Jett tries to win Leslie’s affections away from Bick, then years later pursues Bick and Leslie’s daughter, Luz Jr. (Carroll Baker) along these same intensions.
In between these hot-blooded scenes there are great moments of subtle reflection about Texas being a state of mind; such as the confrontation sequence in which Leslie is politely asked, then commanded by her husband to retreat upstairs while the men talk politics; or the taut and angst driven turn of revenge, whereupon Jett assaults Bick on his front porch after only moments before having discovered oil on his meager property.
Ferber based Jett on Texas oilman Glenn McCarthy, an Irish immigrant and proprietor of the opulent Shamrock Hotel. Stevens and company were left reeling when they were telegrammed in Marfa that Dean had met with his untimely end in traffic accident only days after completing his scenes. When the film was released it burst forth with all the fanfare of a raging stampede, easily becoming the biggest grossing film in Warner Brother’s history – a top spot it maintained until the release of Superman: The Movie in 1978.
Warner Home Video unleashes Giant in a 2-disc edition that is below average. Shot on the uncompromisingly bad WarnerColor, the filmic image is inconsistent at best. Color fidelity, sharpness and contrast levels fluctuate from barely adequate to quite refined – sometimes within the same scene. Flesh tones are not natural but rather overly pink or ruddy orange. Film grain is quite excessive at times, then remarkably absent. This is a problematic transfer at best.
The audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital remastering effort with inherent limitations. Music cues have a very flat sonic characteristic. Extras include two very thorough, though uniquely different, documentaries on the film, a rather leaden introduction by George Stevens Jr., audio commentaries, theatrical trailer and outtakes. Overall, the flaws exhibited in this transfer are those derived from the shoddy original color film stock and not the transfer itself. A complete restoration effort should be made to bring Giant back to life.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)