Thursday, September 30, 2010

Elia Kazan - East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden (1955) is director Elia Kazan's updated re-telling of the Biblical story of rival brothers, Cain and Abel and a paradise lost. Writer Paul Osborn's screenplay adapted John Steinbeck's 1952 novel with the same title for this dramatic Warner Bros. film.

James Dean represents the unappreciated son Cal (representing Cain) who vies against his dull, stuffy brother Aron (representing Abel) for the affections of their father. The maligned Cain character, representing the unlikeable and outcast Kazan himself (for naming names before the HUAC Committee in 1952), becomes the hero of this film.
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James Dean was born whole and Hollywood ate him away, quickly, until he wrecked the rest. In experiencing the legends, Marilyn and James Dean for example, you're setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment. No one (save perhaps Warren Beatty, Brad Pitt, Anne Revere, and Lili Taylor, Garbo, not many anyways) could sustain that kind of hype, could live up to the most exploitively positive expletives available to the highest paid gunslinging wordsmith mercenaries on the planet. But Dean could, and only this once. Part Brando, part Kurt Cobain, and part recently kicked Lassie his is the pathos that will never not shine. Of course John Steinbeck wrote him, and hundreds of other actors who couldn't convert like this, a great character. Burl Ives is damn near as good but with less opportunity, Julie Harris plays a worthy female lead opposite Sir James (!), Ramond Massey deserves the good things said of his performance as the alive but dead father who wants to pass all of it on to his sons....Richard Davalos never got the credit he deserves for his brilliant portrayal of Abel to Dean's Cain....good generous, gracious, long as he's winning. The only things that don't work are Leonard Rosenman's horrendously overwraught sappy score, and the semi-regular occasions when Elia Kazan endeavors to match it with over-directing. I can just hear him now, "Hokey dokey James, now we want to make this an emotional scene." Meanwhile everyone else on the set is admiring James' elegance as he asks a roadie how he's doin' and where the chips are.
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