GIANT SPECIAL EDITION: DVD
Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), hereditary owner of Reata, one of the largest ranches in Texas, falls in love with Virginian socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), while buying a prize stallion in the 30s. Soon married, Lesley finds it difficult to adjust to life on Reata especially as Bick’s sister (Mercedes McCambridge) resents the new ‘foreigner’ bride. But barely tolerated ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean) is bewitched by Leslie and quietly falls in love with her, feeding his resentment of the Benedicts. He is fobbed off with a plot of land on the corner of Reata, which later turns out to be more valuable than anyone imagined. Friction between Lesley and Bick rises when Lesley tries to improve the health of the poor Mexican workers looked down upon by the Texans. Over the next two decades, the Benedict family grows, and in their young adulthood, two of the Benedict children Jordan (Dennis Hopper) and Luz (Carroll Baker) make their own, controversial choices of a partner, with Luz falling in love with Jett, who has become Bick’s bitter enemy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Giant: it’s big. Big film, big DVD package. Big as Texas. But Texans don’t like it much. Too close to the bone. If the film seems dated in some respects – technical elements such as make up, structure issues and the way time jumps are handled – it is extraordinarily contemporary in what seems, today, its most salient theme: racism. The film was completed in 1956, which makes its racial stand revolutionary in its time. The fact that the story embraces a repressed romance and a partial socio-historic documentation of Texas itself, makes the film complex and intriguing. The screenplay is like one of the great, free spirited stallions which grace parts of the film, bucking the writers as they try to reign in Edna Ferber’s novel. (If she couldn’t write Gone With The Wind, then she was darned well gonna write Giant!)
Director George Stevens (who won the film’s only Oscar out of 10 nominations) had a handful, too, with a cast whose names echo with cinema history. But in 1956, they were still making it. Cinema history, that is. But while Rock Hudson is very acceptable, and Liz Taylor is superb, it’s James Dean who scorches his character into our hearts and minds with a performance that rages under a cool outer skin. The hat over a bowed head, pulled far down over his face, the voice kept low and the emotions kept bottled, Dean, in his final role, gives the performance of his life. And his screen time is far less than Hudson’s or Taylor’s.
The strength and determination of Bick Benedict is also a symbol of all that was wrong with Texas and the US in the 1950s and before; swaggering and chauvinistic not to mention racist and exploitative. Leslie is the figure of a new tolerance and compassion sweeping the West as a prelude to the 60s, and the film’s final shot reminds me of the best intentions of the famous Benetton ads, in which all colours of mankind grow up together - and tolerant of each other. You could say that this was made in the old Hollywood, when not only were the studio bosses storytellers and filmmakers, but they admired and promoted the finer aspects of human nature.
Restored and remastered, the DVD transfer is superb, with beautiful, crisp images. (Remember, it’s the original 1.66:1, which is pretty friendly for most tv screens.) I even took it onto my computer for a real close up look. I had to crank up the sound to get really close to the dialogue, but it’s all there. The navigation is nice and simple, with a few key shots for illustration.
Two lengthy pieces make up the bulk of the extras disc. The 50 minute Memories of Giant, made by Warner Bros in 1998, is a nostalgic trip by some of the cast and crew (including Geroge Stevens jr and Rock Hudson), while the 55 minute Return to Giant (1996), with Gig Young as host, is a snapshot of Marfa, the tiny Texan outpost, and the geographic setting of the film. But it reveals more; like what makes Texans tick. And Dennis Hopper reminiscing.
Gig Young does the Dimitri Tiomkin doco, too, and the style of this piece is endearingly old fashioned faux-real. And my soft spot being music, I love the fact that the film’s score and its composer is given the star treatment. This featurette is obviously part of a tv series of short items fronted by Young (I even have a vague recollection of the series, but no detail comes to mind).
Inevitably, some of the material is repetitious (including bits of the Rock Hudson interview), but this is a DVD for those who won’t mind that too much. And while I normally skip the trailers, in this case I recommend a glance through all four on the disc, a variety that economically sets the film in its overall time context, from the earliest teaser in 1956 with just drawings, through the launch trailer, to the re-issue trailers of 1963 and 1970.
The 40 second Giant stars are off to Texas is a Warner Pathe newsreel item, with more novelty value than information. But the 27 minute New York premiere telecast footage and the 4.5 minute Hollywood premiere footage are terrific snapshots into ‘the moment’ and full of the era’s greatest names, including Clark Gable, among many others.
They don’t make films like that …. and they don’t do red carpet like that any more, either.
Published August 7, 2003
Email this article
BUY IT HERE
FEATURE by Nick Roddick
GIANT SPECIAL EDITION (PG)
(US) - 1956
CAST: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor
DIRECTOR: George Stevens
SCRIPT: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat (Novel by Edna Ferber)
RUNNING TIME: 201 minutes
PRESENTATION: original 1.66:1; Dolby Surround 2.0; languages – English, French, Italian, Arabic; subtitles in English & HI, French, Italian & HI, German, Dutch, Romanian, Russian (Disc 2 has no Russian subtitles, but does have Castellan. Don’t ask me why.)
SPECIAL FEATURES: Memories of Giant; Return to Giant; New York premiere telecast; Hollywood premiere; Giant stars are off to Texas; stills and documents; On location; behind the cameras with Dimitri Tiomkin.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: August 6, 2003