This month, March 2010, we do not have a theatrical release to go see; rather we chose to include private screenings of all three of James Dean’s film performances. So we will have a special screening this Saturday, March 13, 2010, of GIANT (1956). This sprawling epic was based on the famous Edna Ferber novel, which actually was not well liked by Texans. Somehow director George Stevens, known for his humanist views, created the movie portraying Texans and Texas more sympathetically than the novel did. One of the ways he succeeded with this was to use a lot of the townspeople of Marfa, TX, as extras in the movie. All of the exteriors were shot there in Marfa and he allowed an “open set” where onlookers could show up daily to watch the movie being shot. He also used the town’s single movie theater, The Palace, to show the dailies in—and the whole population was welcome to attend, often filling the theater to capacity—to the chagrin of many of the stars who tried to get in too.
Stevens started out in Hollywood at 17 years old, becoming a cinematographer from 1923-1933. He shot 64 films, including several with Laurel & Hardy before turning to directing in 1930. Some memorable films from his lexicon of 56 movies included ALICE ADAMS (1935) with Katherine Hepburn, SWING TIME (1936) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, GUNGA DIN (1939) with Cary Grant, WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942), I REMEMBER MAMA (1948), A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, SHANE (1953)-the all-time Western classic with Alan Ladd, and then after GIANT he gave us THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959), and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965). He was famous for being meticulous, and making multiple takes of each scene so that he could have more to chose from during the editing phase—which he usually spent a year on for his films; as the producer he had a lot of autonomy from the studios. James Dean called his shooting style “the around the clock method”, and he called Stevens “fatso” throughout the filming. George Stevens is considered one of the greatest of American directors, often mentioned in the same breath as John Ford, William Wyler, and Howard Hawks. GIANT was nominated for ten Oscars, including a second posthumous one for James Dean, but only Stevens won one for Best director; beating out William Wyler for FRIENDLY PERSUASON, King Vidor for WAR AND PEACE, and Walter Lang for THE KING AND I.
Trivia: In the Edna Ferber novel the pivotal scene in Sarge’s Diner –showing the Benedict stand against racism, where Bick Benedict fist fights with Sarge– did not exist. Rather just Leslie Benedict had come to the diner with her Mexican daughter-in-law and Sarge demanded they leave; which they did. GIANT was released on VHS for a long time, but it was only released in DVD in 2003. Alan Ladd and Montgomery Clift had both been considered for the role of Jet Rink. Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn were considered to play Leslie Benedict. Clark Gable, John Wayne, William Holden, Robert Mitchum, and Sterling Hayden were all considered for the role of Bick Benedict. The huge mansion used in the movie was only a false front. All the interiors were shot back in the studio. There are some ridge poles and wooden structure left from the set still standing today on the Texas ranch where it was filmed. In the film FANDANGO (1985) with Kevin Costner, several college buddies go on a pilgrimage to visit the bare bones of the set for GIANT. Actor Nick Adams had to loop James Dean’s voice in the banquet scene after Dean’s untimely death.
Uncle Bawley: “Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. No he’s too rich to kill.”
GIANT (1956) Directed by George Stevens @ 201 minutes.
The film starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Mercedes McCambrige, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Rod Taylor, Earl Holliman, and Paul Fix. Synopsis: Ambitious sprawling epic about the rising and falling fortunes to two generations of Texans–that age-old conflict between the aristocracy and the nouvea riche. A hired hand on this cattle empire inherits a small piece of land when one of the family members died, and he discovers oil on the parcel. James Dean as Jett Rink simply walks off with the picture, dominating every scene he was in. He was killed before the film was released. Tagllnes: “Jet Rink was made to get to the top–so he could have the fun of falling all the way down” “Based on Edna Ferber’s great novel–this legendary epic is as big as Texas.” “Sometimes any man can be a giant.” The film was nominated for 10 Oscars. George Stevens won for “Best Director”
The cinematographer for GIANT was William C. Mellor, a veteran lenser who shot 88 films from 1934, including ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940), WAKE ISLAND (1942), A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959). He died of a heart attack at 60 years old while shooting Steven’s THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965). Stevens decided to not use the CinemaScope process to shoot GIANT. He felt that those lenses distorted the images, all width and no decent height.
In VARIETY within the 1956 review for “GIANT” it was written, “Lenser William C. Mellor deserves some sort of reward for his work. He has achieved stunning effects and GIANT benefits immeasurably from his realism. His camera has captured some of the most impressive vistas seen on the screen to date.”
The stirring musical score for GIANT was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, often considered one of the premier film composers he wrote scores for 120 films from 1931; including LOST HORIZON (1937), MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), MEET JOHN DOE (1941), DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), RED RIVER (1948), CHAMPION (1949), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), HIGH NOON (1952), THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954), FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956), THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1958), THE UNFORGIVEN (1960), and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961).
So be sure to join us this Saturday, March 13, 2010 for George Steven’s epic production of GIANT (1956). We will have this special screening at 924 Broadway, across from the Theatre on the Square, kitty-corner from the Pantages, in the Pythian Temple building. Roger will have some tables set up so that we can still have our early meal before the screening, so our normal ritual of arriving early for the repast and fellowship around 6:15pm will remain extant. We will offer the TFC raffle tickets also, and I will give away yet another wonderful DVD from my own collection. It is such a joy to have this space available to club when we need it– kudos to Roger for giving us priority when we need it. See you at the movies!