Play It Again – Giant

Play It Again – Giant. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

I’d like to make it known that I don’t think it ever necessary for a film to run three hours, even if it does star Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Much like Gone with the Wind, George Stevens’ (A Place in the Sun) 1956 epic adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel Giant requires a comfortable viewing position, plenty of stamina, and a much-needed intermission.

Perhaps best known for being Dean’s last film before his untimely death, Giant is a sweeping Texan soap opera that begins in the early 1920s and reveals the underbelly of racism in the Lone Star state. Hudson stars as Bick Benedict, a wealthy man with 595,000 acres on his ranch, Benedict Reata, and a new wife, Leslie Lynnton (Taylor). Leslie struggles to acclimatise to her new life in Texas, and Bick’s sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), who manages the estate, does little to help her. Both Bick and Luz are prejudiced against the Mexican Americans who work for them, and it’s a long journey before Bick earns Leslie’s respect for recognising the error of his ways.

When Leslie befriends Jett Rink (Dean), a man who works on the ranch, he falls in love with her; the film then shows his progression from a humble worker to a wealthy oil tycoon. Giant sees many changes in its characters’ lives as it takes place over a quarter of a century; from the birth of Bick and Leslie’s children – Dennis Hopper plays their son in one of his earliest roles – to the struggles they face as they grow older.

Covering racial issues and the period-sensitive expectations that children follow in their parents’ footsteps, Giant was a hit with audiences at the time and collected ten Academy Award nominations. Though it only won for Best Director, it was also up for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor for both Dean and Hudson. A film of this scale is a hard-sell to today’s audiences, and while the Taylor-Hudson-Dean combo should be enough of a draw card, perhaps the lure of incredibly bad “old age” makeup will entice you to seek this classic out.

Giant is available on DVD, and can be viewed online via Quickflix’s Watch Now service.

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