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East Of Eden (1955).rtf
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East Of Eden (1955)
In the Salinas Valley, in and around World War I, Cal Trask feels he must compete against overwhelming odds with his brother Aron for the love of their father Adam. Cal is frustrated at every turn, from his reaction to the war, to how to get ahead in business and in life, to how to relate to estranged mother.
Julie Harris ... Abra
James Dean ... Cal Trask
Raymond Massey ... Adam Trask
Burl Ives ... Sam the Sheriff
Richard Davalos ... Aron Trask
Jo Van Fleet ... Kate
Albert Dekker ... Will Hamilton
Lois Smith ... Anne
Harold Gordon ... Gustav Albrecht
Nick Dennis ... Rantani
Director: Elia Kazan
Codecs: DivX 3 / MP3
*** Widescreen. Does not play correctly in WMP. Use VLC ***
First I'll throw in my two cents on an issue I wish I didn't have to comment on. Almost everyone knows that East of Eden is based on the novel by John Steinbeck. Although I'm more of a fan of fantastic and surreal literature, Steinbeck and Hemingway are probably my two favorite realist authors. East of Eden is an epic masterpiece, well worth reading. It's also close to 200,000 words long, so obviously, some details and plot points are going to be left out or changed in a two-hour movie, and that shouldn't make a difference. The film is a separate artwork in a completely different medium that should be judged on its own merits, not compared to the book. (For more on this, see my "novel to film mini-rant" in my user profile.)
Director Elia Kazan's East of Eden presents itself as a disarmingly simple film. Many might feel that it's slow or uneventful. But the superficial appearance is intentionally misleading, a filmic representation of the elegant austerity of Steinbeck's literary style; the plot, subtexts and filmic artistry are all really quite complex, and this is the rare example of a film that grows on you more and more after you've seen it.
The plot is a rough "modern" (circa the 1910s) retelling of the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, set in and between Salinas and Monterey, California, as an allegory of good versus evil. But both Steinbeck and screenwriter Paul Osborn weave a dense allegorical tapestry, with those polar ethical opposites becoming less clear-cut as the film progresses.
Cain is Cal Trask (James Dean) here, Abel his brother Aron (Richard Davalos). Their father, Adam (Raymond Massey), owns a "ranch" upon which he grows lettuce. He sees the attainment of excessive profit as negative, and instead focuses his intelligence and skills on trying to better mankind somehow, the practical upshot of which is that Adam is trying to conquer the problem of the preservation of (transported, especially) food via refrigeration or freezing. Adam is sternly frugal and religious, and favors Aron. Thus Cal is something of a hoodlum when the film begins. He's irreverent and tends to wander off. We see him being belligerent and somewhat (self) destructive. Aron, in contrast, seems decorous and easy-going, as does his girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris). In other words, Cal and Aron are basically presented as Goofus and Gallant at the start of the film.
Cal and Aron were told by Adam that their mother was dead. But Cal has suspicions about this, and the first part of East of Eden is concerned with Cal's attempt to discover the truth about his mother. He learns the truth, and the second half covers a number of parallel, somewhat unexpected transformations in the Trask family and their close friends. This is also paralleled with the burgeoning of World War I, which has a complex impact on these (then) small California towns.
The first thing that you're likely to notice with the recent Warner Home Video DVD of East of Eden, after the novelty of the 3-minute "Overture" (which doesn't add much at home, but is interesting historically and doesn't negatively affect anything), is the beautiful cinematography. This was one of the earlier "Cinemascope" (anamorphic 35mm widescreen, with up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio) films, shot also with a new "Warner Color" process. The results, employing gorgeous California landscapes artfully shot by cinematographer Ted D. McCord under Kazan's direction, are breathtaking. Everything looks scrumptious--from old downtown streets to the rocky ocean shores, distant mountains over sprawling fields, romantically shot freight trains--even the sugar factory standing in for Adam's "barn" and the Monterey whorehouse are beautifully photographed. One of the more famous scenes features Cal and Abra in a dense, colorful, flower-filled field. The Warner Color manages to look both intense and subdued at the same time, which fits the atmosphere of the film perfectly. Kazan employs a lot of subtle camera motions and angles to emphasize the drama, including marvelously skewed angles during confrontations between Cal and Adam.
The score, by Leonard Rosenman, is also worth mentioning, as the mood of the film hinges on it so much. It's lush and sophisticated, with a slight Aaron Copland flavor to my ears. This was Rosenman's first scoring gig. He had been James Dean's piano teacher and had actually studied with famed 12-tone ("serial") music proponent Arnold Schoenberg. Ironically, he felt himself an odd choice and initially suggested that Kazan ask Copland to score the film instead. That probably led to some of the Coplandish tonalities, although to many ears, Rosenman tends to sound more like Alban Berg, another, more famous, Schoenberg protégé.
Of course as a realist drama, the performances in the film are crucial. Dean is outstanding, as one would expect, but so is Harris and the rest of the cast. Part of this must be due to Kazan, as Harris, for example, doesn't come across nearly as well to me in some of her other films, such as Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963).
If East of Eden has a flaw, it's that its relatively short (compared to the material available) running time makes for some unexplained or shallow turnabouts of character in the complex of good/evil interplay. Aron seems particularly distant to the viewer, for example, which is appropriate to the final state of his character, but which could have been explained better in transformation.
But this is a fabulous film, with grand, biblical and universal subtexts and an unusually developed but extremely charming romance. Unless you're completely averse to realist drama, you must see East of Eden at least once.
Elia Kazan deserved his recent honorary Oscar, no matter what political mistakes he may have made. He deserved it because he is one of the supreme artists of the cinema. His ability to draw superb performances from his actors, is coupled with an astonishing ability to depict these emotional states visually, through the use of camera angles, lighting and symbols. "East of Eden" must be seen in the widescreen format to truly appreciate its visual style. It is arresting, sometimes beautiful and always powerful.
Then there are the performances. James Dean's heartbreaking realization of Cal, consumed by jealousy; Jo Van Fleet's magnificent portrayal of his mother; Richard Davalos (why didn't we see more of him on the screen after this film?) innocent, virginal, doomed; Raymond Massey who has never been better in a multi-layered performance; Burl Ives' commanding police chief - and, as usual in a Kazan film, even the smallest part is played to perfection (who'll forget the girl in the brothel or the nurse at the end?). After seeing the film a few times I really appreciate the performance of Julie Harris too. I once thought her a little too mature for the role - but now I see how her reactions to the events really enhance the emotional impact of those events. Kazan allows her to be in frame during some of the most crucial encounters between Cal and his father - and her face tells a million stories. This is a true "supporting" performance - her performance helping Dean realize Cal. Brava Julie!
I'm a lot older now than when I first saw this film - but I still relate so strongly to the communication breakdown and the need for love between father and son. The improvement of my own relationship with my father makes me see the film differently but with no less emotion. Like all masterpieces this film does not date, we just see it differently as we age. This is undoubtedly one of my top five films.
* Director Elia Kazan got James Dean drunk before filming the rooftop scene between Cal and Abra.
* James Dean and Paul Newman screen tested together for the parts of rival brothers for this movie.
* James Dean would provoke Raymond Massey off-camera so that the elder actor would hate him and he could get into character easier.
* In the scene where Adam refuses to accept Cal's money, the script called for Cal to turn away in anger from his father. It was James Dean's instinct to embrace him instead. This came as a surprise to Raymond Massey, who could think of nothing to do but say, "Cal! Cal!" in response.
* James Dean refused to attend the premiere party, which almost cost him the lead in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
* This is the only one of the "big three" James Dean films to be released before his death.
* James Dean and Paul Newman were filmed together in a crude screen test in New York that still exists, according to Dean biographer David Dalton in "The Mutant King" (1974). In the screen test, Newman is quite cool and stares straight ahead while Dean is more animated, and is flipping something up and down in and out of his hand like George Raft and his nickel in Scarface (1932). When Dean is asked what the object is, he admits that it is a switchblade, the premier symbol of the juvenile delinquent menace much feared in the 1950s.
* Average Shot Length (ASL) = 10 seconds
* Elia Kazan first toyed with the idea of casting Marlon Brando as Cal and Montgomery Clift as Aaron, but at 30 and 32 years old, respectively, they were simply too old to play John Steinbeck's teenage brothers.
* Elia Kazan, in his autobiography "A Life" (1988), said that Raymond Massey came to despise James Dean. Kazan did nothing to dispel the tension between the two, as it was so right for their characters in the film.
* During the production of the film, Elia Kazan used to write letters to his friend John Steinbeck, with whom he had worked closely on the original screenplay for Viva Zapata! (1952), to keep him abreast of the film's progress. Steinbeck thought Dean was a perfect Cal, and he tremendously enjoyed the final film.
* Upon being introduced to James Dean on the set, author John Steinbeck exclaimed, "Jesus Christ, he IS Cal!"
* Timothy Carey, who had a small part as Joe the bouncer, drove director Elia Kazan to such distraction with his bizarre behavior that Kazan, a longtime avowed pacifist, physically attacked him, the only time he had ever done such a thing.