Note: We’ve included a basic Wikipedia entry on the movie below, but for those interested in reading about the movie and how it really impacted Marfa and the greater West Texas area, we suggest reading this article which appeared in the Big Bend Quarterly originally in 1995.
”Giant” is a 1956 United States|American drama film, directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean and features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Elsa Cardenas and Earl Holliman. ”Giant ” was the last of James Dean’s three films as a leading actor, and earned him his second and last Academy Award nomination; he was killed in a car accident before the film was released. Nick Adams (actor) was called in to do some voice-over dubbing for Dean’s role.
In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Rock Hudson), the head of the rich Benedict ranching family of Texas, goes to Maryland to buy a stud horse, War Winds. There he meets and courts the socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), who breaks off her engagement to a diplomat (Rod Taylor) and becomes Bick’s wife.
They return to Texas to start their life together on the family ranch, Reata, where Bick’s sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) runs the household. Luz resents Leslie’s arrival and tries to intimidate her. Jett Rink (James Dean) works for Luz and hopes to find his fortune by leaving Texas; he also has a secret love for Leslie. Luz expresses her hostility for Leslie by cruelly digging in her spurs while riding Leslie’s beloved horse, War Winds. Luz dies after War Winds bucks her off, and as part of her will, Jett is given a plot of land within the Benedict ranch. Bick tries to buy back the land, but Jett refuses. Jett keeps the fenced off waterhole as his home and names the property Little Reata. Leslie eventually gives birth to twins, Jordan “Jordy” Benedict III (Dennis Hopper) and Judy Benedict (Fran Bennett), and a younger daughter named Luz II (Carroll Baker).
Jett discovers traces of oil in a footprint left by Leslie and he drills in the spot. He hits his first oil gusher|gusher and is covered in the spouting oil. He drives to the Benedict front yard to assert himself and proclaim to the family and guests that he will be richer than the Benedicts. After Jett makes a rude sexual remark to Leslie, Bick punches him. As Bick’s friends restrain him, Jett hits him several times, then drives off. In the years before World War II, Jett prospers through his oil drilling company, named ‘Jetexas’. Determined to remain a cattle rancher like his forefathers, Bick rejects several offers to drill for oil on his much larger ranch.
Meanwhile, tensions in the Benedict household revolve around how the parents want to bring up their children. Bick insists that Jordy must succeed him and run the ranch, as his father and grandfather before him – but Jordy wants to be a doctor. Leslie wants Judy to attend finishing school in Switzerland, but Judy loves the ranch and wants to study animal husbandry at Texas Tech University|Texas Tech. Both children succeed in pursuing their chosen vocations. After war breaks out, Jett visits the Benedicts to persuade Bick to allow oil production on his land to help the war effort. Recognizing that his children will not take over the ranch when he retires, Bick concedes. Both Bick and Jett have developed drinking problems. Luz II, now in her teens, starts flirting with Jett. Once oil production starts on the ranch, the wealthy Benedict family becomes even wealthier, as suggested by the addition of a swimming pool next to the house.
After the war, the Benedict-Rink rivalry continues, coming to a head when the Benedicts discover that Luz II and the much older Jett have been dating. At a huge gala Jett organizes in his own honor, an irate Jordy tries to fight him after his Mexican-American wife, Juana (Elsa Cárdenas), is repeatedly insulted by Jett’s employees because of her race. As his goons hold Jordy, Jett punches him repeatedly in front of a crowd, and has the young man thrown out. Fed up, Bick challenges Jett to a fistfight. Drunk and almost incoherent, Jett leads the way to a wine storage room. Seeing that Jett is in no state to defend himself, Bick lowers his fists, says “You’re not even worth hitting. … You’re all through,” and leaves, but not before toppling Jett’s wine cellar shelves, domino-style. Jett, completely drunk, collapses face down and falls asleep on the table in front of his seat of honor. All the guests leave. Later, Luz II sees him partly recovered from his stupor, talking to an empty room and disclosing that his sexual interest in the young girl is only his attempt to possess her mother symbolically.
The next day, the Benedicts, all except Jordy, drive down a sparsely traveled road and stop at a segregated diner. Juana and her little boy are once again insulted racially, and when the proprietor, Sarge (Mickey Simpson), insults and begins to physically eject an old Mexican man and his family, Bick tries to stop him. This leads to a fistfight, which Bick clearly loses. Juana, Leslie and Luz II are disgusted by Sarge’s bigotry, but proud of Bick for standing up to the bully.
Back at the ranch, Bick and Leslie watch their grandchildren, blonde and Latino, and reflect on their life and family. Leslie tells Bick that after watching him lose the fight in the diner, she respects his evolution in understanding the concerns of people not like his wealthy forbears, and considers their own incarnation of the Benedict family a success.
*Elizabeth Taylor as Leslie Lynnton Benedict
The movie is an epic portrayal of a powerful Texas ranching family challenged by changing times and the coming of big oil.
A major subplot concerns the racism of white Texans and the social Racial segregation|segregation of Mexican Americans they enforce. In early segments of the film, Bick and Luz treat the Mexicans who work on their ranch condescendingly, which upsets the more socially conscious Leslie. Bick eventually comes to realize the moral indefensibility of his racism—in a climactic scene at a roadside diner he loses a fistfight to the racist owner, but earns Leslie’s respect for defending the human rights of his brown-skinned daughter-in-law and grandson. Another subplot involves Leslie’s own striving for women’s equal rights as she defies the Patriarchy|patriarchal social order, asserting herself and expressing her own opinions when the men talk. She protests being expected to suppress her beliefs in deference to Bick’s; this conflict leads to their temporary separation.
The Victorian home Boris Leven designed became an iconic image for the film.
The first part of the picture was shot in Albemarle County, Virginia, doubling for Maryland, and utilizing the Belmont estate near the Keswick, Virginia|Keswick railroad station, which depicted the “Ardmore, Maryland” railway depot.
The film begins with Jordan “Bick” Benedict, played by Hudson, arriving at Ardmore to purchase a stallion from the Lynnton family.
Much of the subsequent film, depicting “Reata”, the Benedict ranch, was shot in and around the town of Marfa, Texas, and the remote, dry plains found nearby, with interiors filmed at the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank, California. The “Jett Rink Day” parade and airport festivities were filmed at the nearby Bob Hope Airport|Burbank Airport.
The fictional character Jett Rink was inspired partly by the extraordinary rags-to-riches life of the wildcatter oil tycoon Glenn Herbert McCarthy (1907–1988). Author Edna Ferber met McCarthy when she booked a room at his Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955) in Houston, Texas, on which the fictional Emperador Hotel was based in the book and the film.
Australian actor Rod Taylor was cast after being seen in an episode of ”Studio 57”, ”The Black Sheep’s Daughter”. It was one of his first Hollywood roles.<ref>Stephen Vagg, ”Rod Taylor: An Australian in Hollywood”, Bear Manor Media, 2010 p49</ref>
”Giant” premiered in New York City on October 10, 1956. Capitol Records, which had issued some of Dimitri Tiomkin’s music from the soundtrack (with the composer conducting the Warner Brothers studio orchestra) on an LP, later digitally remastered the tracks and issued them on CD, including two tracks conducted by Ray Heindorf. Both versions used a monaural blend of the multi-channel soundtrack recording.
”Giant” was Barbara Barrie|Barbara Barrie’s first film. Carroll Baker, who plays Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter, was older in real life than her screen mother.
After James Dean’s death late in production, Nick Adams overdubbed some of Dean’s lines, which were nearly inaudible, as Rink’s voice. George Stevens had a reputation as a meticulous film editor, and the film spent an entire year in the editing room.
”Giant” won praise from both critics and the public, and according to the Texan author, Larry McMurtry, was especially popular with Texans, even though it was sharply critical of Texan society. Bosley Crowther of the ”New York Times” wrote that “George Stevens takes three hours and seventeen minutes to put his story across. That’s a heap of time to go on about Texas, but Mr. Stevens has made a heap of film.” and ‘Giant’, for all its complexity, is a strong contender for the year’s top-film award.”
”Giant” won the Academy Award for Best Director and was nominated nine other times, twice for Academy Award for Best Actor|Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Dean and Rock Hudson). The other nominations came in the categories of Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge); Academy Award for Best Art Direction|Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Boris Leven, Ralph S. Hurst); Academy Award for Costume Design|Best Costume Design, Color; Academy Award for Film Editing|Best Film Editing; Academy Award for Original Music Score|Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; Academy Award for Best Picture|Best Picture; and Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay|Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted.
SOURCE: Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_(1956_film)