Tuesday 22 October 2013

East of Eden [1955]

The enduring personality cult surrounding James Dean effectively began with East of Eden, the first of only three movies that he starred in before his tragic demise on account of a car accident. Based on John Steinback’s novel, this Elia Kazan film was on the grand ‘Cain & Abel’ theme of an increasingly disillusioned son trying to win the approval of his father who favours his other son, and the vicious circle therein. The fact that the father is an overly religious and self-righteous man with a sharply defined sense of right and wrong, makes the protagonist’s journey that much more complicated. When ageing farmer (Raymond Massey) loses considerable money because of a failed business enterprise, his embittered son Cal (Dean), futilely vying for his father’s love and acceptance, enters into the bean-growing business expecting its price to skyrocket on account of the impending war. This, as expected, earns severe displeasure of his father as he is opposed to making profits out of a war. Two key angles that takes the situation to its flashing point is his increasing antagonism with his conformist brother Aron (Richard Davalos) because of his growing proximity with Aron’s fiancée (Julie Harris), and his discovery of the fact that their supposedly dead mother (Jo Van Fleet) is very much alive and runs a successful brothel – the two brother react divergently to that. The stunning widescreen photography of rural America, with its social prejudices that gets heightened on account of the war, and the simultaneous psychological battles between the various characters, made this an engaging film, even if the treatment seemed tad dated and the reconciliatory finale bordered on the contrived.

Director: Elia Kazan
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama/Rural Drama/Americana
Language: English
Country: US


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Julie Harris (as the bird was in 1943 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Sam Juliano said...

I was greatly moved by that finale Shubhajit, and didn't at all find issue with the "dating" that could be applied to a number of 1950's films made in the USA. Dean, Harris and Van Fleet gave extraordinary, even electrifying performances, and the drama retained the power of Steinbeck's towering novel. Ted McCord's widescreen cinematography and the magnificent score by Leonard Rosenman are essential components.

Excellent review Shubhajit.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Even though I did have a few issues with it, there's no denying the film's power and beauty. And Dean's charismatic presence sure elevated it further.