editor's choice



WE WERE REMINDED OF THE SPLENDOUR OF GEORGE STEVENS’ GIANT the other day when we were reviewing Brown-Eyed Girl, the fourth and final book in Lisa Kleypas’s ‘Travis family’ series. It perhaps may seem odd to link a contemporary romance, albeit a very good one, with an iconic 20th-century film by such a great filmmaker as Stevens, who had already by 1956, when Giant was released, made a string of important movies, including Shane (1953) and A Place in the Sun (1951), but there are links.

Adapted for screen by seasoned writers Fred Gulol and Ivan Moffat, who received an Academy Award nomination for their efforts, Giant is based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling 1952 novel of the same name and follows the fortunes of a Texas oil family from the 1920s to just after World War II. At the centre are Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict, Jr (Rock Hudson), his wife, former socialite Leslie Lynnton Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor) and the tempestuous farmhand made good, Jett Rink (James Dean) who’s infatuated with Leslie and whom Bick loathes.

What makes the film interesting, particularly for the time it was released, is its focus on Texan–Mexican affairs and the often brutal, racist treatment of ethnic Mexicans at the time. This is all the more so if one thinks of what was going on in America at the time, namely the civil rights movement, which was gaining momentum after the 1954 Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision and the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–6, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Giant even features an interracial marriage between Bick and Leslie’s son, Jordy, and a young Mexican woman, Juana, which brings the film to its climax in many ways: Bick is forced to face his own inherent prejudices and comes through when he fights a racist roadside diner owner who’s insulted his daughter-in-law. Despite losing, he shows Leslie and his family that he is a man of honour and principle, a man who stands up for what’s right (when he recognises it) and a man whose family lies at the heart of everything he does.

Giant is a sweeping epic of a film, made all the more mesmerising by its cinematography and its quite startlingly beautiful cast. While Hudson and Taylor are, without a doubt, in their prime, it is Dean who steals the show. This was one of his last films – in fact, he died before its release – and he received a second posthumous Academy Award nomination, in 1957, for best actor (Hudson was nominated alongside him). In the end, Yul Brynner won it for The King and I, proving that monarchy, even on celluloid, will out. Stevens did pick up a well-deserved best director award, though.

Giant is a great film, one of which we are particularly fond. And if you haven’t watched it, please do – and George Stevens’ other great films, of course. Here’s the trailer…



Film we love: Night Mail (1936), changing the face of British film; The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) – a Billy Wilder classic?; A Colour Box (1935) by Len Lye, GPO Film Unit; Hitchcock (2012).


Also of interest: ‘Lisa Kleypas’s Brown-Eyed Girl – a Travis family finale’; Love Letter No. 16, ‘I wish I could tell you of my love for you … but I can’t’, Elizabeth Taylor to Richard Burton on the occasion of their 10th wedding anniversary, ‘Letters from the heart, our Top 20 love letters of all time’