the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Warner Home Video presents

Giant (1956)

"It's different than any other state, I think. At least that's what we think, but it's almost a different country."- Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson), discussing the state of Texas

Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge
Other Stars: Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Judith Evelyn, Earl Holliman, Robert Nichols, Paul Fix, Alexander Scourby, Monte Hale, Sheb Wooley, Fran Bennett, Elsa Cardenas
Director: George Stevens

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, drunkenness, Texas jingoism)
Run Time: 03h:21m:18s
Release Date: 2003-06-10
Genre: epic

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B-B A


DVD Review

Many of Edna Ferber's novels were made into popular films, such as Show Boat and So Big. But her epic tale of Texas was so vilified and controversial (especially in Texas) that it was a good many years before anyone dared to attempt to bring it to the screen. The result was quickly embraced, however, no doubt due to the star powers of Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, who died days after shooting his last scene. But the result is also carefully crafted and can appeal on many different levels beyond the mere all-star concept, including a surprisingly direct attack on racial prejudice.

Texas rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Hudson) travels to Maryland to buy a horse, but instead falls in love with Leslie Lynnton (Taylor), the daughter of the horse's owner. Quickly marrying, they return to his ranch, Reata, on the isolated plains of Texas, where she runs afoul of Bick's sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) and her imperious reign over the household. At the same time, ranchhand Jett Rink (Dean), consumed by envy of the Benedict fortune, also covets Leslie. When Luz dies and leaves Jett a small parcel of land, he refuses to sell and instead wildcats for oil. His prayers are answered, when he strikes oil and himself becomes a tycoon. But the old jealousies of the Benedicts remain, though now he has the money and power to realize a measure of vengeance. Meanwhile, Bick must confront his own racism when his son Jordy (Dennis Hopper) marries a Mexican girl, Juana (Elsa Cardenas).

Although Hudson seems to be held in disregard as an actor these days, I find his performance in Giant to be first class all the way. While his accent is a bit unstable, he carries the character off extremely well, and is the only one of the leads to give a convincing portrayal of aging over the decades depicted in the story. Taylor seems content to just be pretty much of the time, although she does evoke sympathy both in her shock at the hideous Texas landscape and in her championing of the downtrodden Mexicans on the ranch. Dean is unsurprisingly superb as the sullen, jealous young Jett, but the limitations of his acting technique are plainly demonstrated in the later sequences where he's required to be a middle-aged drunkard; the documentaries make it clear that Dean himself hated this portion of the performance and knew he wasn't coming across well. Neither Dean nor Taylor is helped by some abysmal age makeup, though it's also true that we now have seen what Taylor devolved into in her 50s, and the dissonance between the makeup and reality is hard to disregard.

The cast is epic in scale, as befits the landscape of Texas, with a great many notables in supporting roles, many of whom are excellent. Carroll Baker makes her first major film appearance as Benedict's daughter, who has a crush on the much older Jett Rink, while Dennis Hopper is extremely affecting as the son unwilling to take up the reins of the ranch, preferring to go into medicine. Sal Mineo has a small but critical role as Angel Obregon, who despite the social and economic contempt showered upon the Mexicans by the white Texans, chooses to serve in World War II and gives his life. Longtime Western character actor Chill Wills is entertaining as the jovial uncle, Bawley Benedict, and Mercedes McCambridge is terrific as the forbidding sister erupting with incestuous sexual jealousy over her brother.

Director George Stevens reportedly spent a year in the editing room, and the result is well-realized on the screen. Despite crossing many years at a time, the editing is such that the flow is always clear and really unnoticeable despite the difficult nature of the transitions. He also chooses his edits carefully, sometimes cutting quickly from a long shot to a closeup for a big impact, such as when Luz spurs a horse savagely. But he's willing to allow a very lengthy static shot as Benedict and his cronies attempt to snow Jett out of his little parcel of land, casting a disapproving and unblinking eye upon the scene. There are many memorable shots, such as Hudson's introduction: first seen only through the glare of a train window, he's then visible only in silhouette at the door, then a cut to his boots as he steps down and sets his suitcase (with the brand of his ranch on it) next to them. The impression given is that this is someone larger than life, unapproachable and prideful, all without a word or any significant action. Another is the shot of Taylor's footprint in the mud as she leaves Jett Rink's spread, when oil begins to burble up beneath it, leading to the rise of Jett's fortunes.

It's hard to see why the Ferber novel was so hated by Texans, while the film was so warmly accepted and indeed has become a critical factor in Texas mythology. The Texans themselves in the picture are highly unsympathetic, unrepentantly both racist and sexist, politically corrupt to a man, living in a utter desolation. The Texans' priorities are also satirized in a brief shot of the precious and rare water being used to douse the lawn of the house, while dust and tumbleweeds blow across the other 595,000 acres of ranchland. The opulence of the Benedicts in close proximity to crushing poverty, both of the whites and Mexicans, seems to invite class warfare against the injustices being worked by the ruling elite, who are pigheaded and prideful to a fault. Granted, there's an air of defiant independence, particularly in Jett's unyielding attempts to find oil on his parcel of land, which surely must appeal to the Texas romantic spirit. But on the whole, Texas doesn't come off well in the least in this picture, which seems to me to be a vicious satire of Texan life. But I suppose that if you play The Eyes of Texas are Upon You enough times, you can get away with just about anything.

In any event, the film manages to combine compelling characters, important themes and generally good performances (with a few notable lapses), makes this worth checking out.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Warner presents this 1.66:1 picture only in nonanamorphic fashion, which results in a substantial reduction in picture detail for those with anamorphic-capable systems. I suppose it's better than excessive cropping down to 16:9 ratio (as was done on Horror of Dracula), but it's still not optimal. The other drawback is excessive edge enhancement that causes the many high contrast shots to have severe ringing around them. That's a shame, because the print quality is quite attractive, with hardly any frame damage visible at all. The Eastmancolor (under the label Warnercolor) is a bit weak, but as George Stevens Jr. notes on the commentary, the Eastmancolor was a severe disappointment even at the time, and regrets that it wasn't shot in Technicolor instead. A few sequences are very soft, almost out of focus, but others have good detail and nice textures and shadow detail. It's not a horrible transfer, but it could have been much better with an anamorphic presentation and not using edge enhancement. The bit rate hovers around 5 Mbps, and seems as if it could be higher considering the film is spread over two sides of a DVD-18.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track is electronically reprocessed to simulate an out-of-phase stereo. The result isn't too obnoxious, but preserving the mono mix would have been preferable. There's not enough directionality or expansiveness present here to have justified the exercise. The sound quality is generally pleasant enough, and Dimitri Tiomkin's score sounds terrific. The rumbling of the oil well gusher on Jett's ranch has a tremendous amount of low bass, and will give your subwoofer a surprisingly rough workout for a picture nearly 50 years old. There is mild hiss and noise present, but overall it's not too distracting.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 56 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
4 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
4 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by George Stevens Jr, critic Stephen Farber, screenwriter Ivan Moffat
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: DVD-18

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Documents
  3. List of awards
Extras Review: Where the transfer falls short, the extras are packed to the gills. The first disc not only contains the entire film on a DVD-18 (split a shade over halfway through), but there's a commentary running the full Herculean length. George Stevens Jr, who was not only the son of the director but worked closely with him, is joined by one of the screenwriters, Ivan Moffat, and critic Stephen Farber. Most of the running time is occupied by Stevens and Farber, but when Moffat does speak up he almost always has some interesting insight into the adaptation or the filming. Also on Disc One is a documentary (45m:37s) of memories of George Stevens from filmmakers who knew him. These include such greats as Frank Capra, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Fred Zinneman as well as four others. There's a tendency to be a bit fawning but there are quite a few valid observations made about Stevens and his career, particularly this film, Shane and The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Disc Two is a dual-layer presentation that includes the balance of the extras, and they're copious. Memories of Giant is a documentary (51m:36s) from about 1996 featuring Stevens Jr, Jane Withers, Carroll Baker and vintage interview footage of Rock Hudson discussing the film and its making. Plenty of attention is accorded to Dean and his performance, as well as his untimely death (which doesn't quite square with the recollections in the other documentary). Return to Giant (55m:07s) includes a broader selection of interview material, including a good deal of time with the locals from Marfa, Texas who were in the extra and smaller parts. There are also lengthy clips from the film and a discussion of its cultural impact on Texas and the remainder of the country. A television special (28m:51s) that originally ran on the long-vanished Dumont network, hosted by Chill Wills and Jayne Meadows, features the New York premiere of the film. Although several notables such as Jack Warner make an appearance, as well as Stevens and some members of the cast, much of the running time is devoted to asking for donations to muscular dystrophy. Oddly enough, the video is anamorphically squeezed, unlike the feature. A more economical look at the Hollywood premiere runs 4m:17s, and is presented in anamorphic widescreen. A vintage bit of newsreel only 37 seconds in length provides a look at the stars arriving in Texas to start shooting.

Gig Young hosts two segments from Behind the Cameras. One (5m:58s) takes a look at the shooting on location in Marfa. The second, more interesting to my mind, is a chat (6m:32s) with composer Dimitri Tiomkin regarding his start as a silent film accompanist in Russia, his compositional style and the great Western songs he had already written by then. A still slideshow over excerpts from the score takes a look at 54 photos, a few of which are in black and white. 32 documents relating to casting, payroll, budget and promotion give a little technical background for those interested in such things. What's amazing is the fact that the budget for the film was only $2.5 million. The disc includes a set of four trailers, being two from the original release in 1956 and the others from later reissues. A Stevens bio and filmography incorporate a few production notes. Wrapping up the massive package is a list of awards and nominations for the film.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

The epic Texas romance finally reaches DVD in a packed special edition, but there are some serious issues with the transfer. This isn't the ultimate presentation on video, but fans of the film will certainly want it for the enormous quantity of valuable extras.

Mark Zimmer 2003-06-15