# 73 on 100 Movies I Haven’t Seen……But Should
Directed By: Eli Kazan
Written By: Paul Osborn
Based On The Novel By: John Steinbeck
Staring: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, Jo Van Fleet, and Robert Dekker
But you must give him some sign, Mr. Trask, some sign that you love him… or he’ll never be a man. All his life he’ll feel guilty and alone unless you release him. -Abra
After this role for James Dean he was referred to as the “new” Marlon Brando. As much of a sting that must have been for Brando, it had to of been even more of a kick in the teeth to realize that he got turned down to play Dean’s part because he was too old. I wouldn’t dare compare Dean to Brando ever, as there are few that have ever graced the silver screen that touch Brando’s utter brilliance. Dean was good, but I prefer we just don’t go there. Ignoring that comparison, this was Dean’s breakout role and East Of Eden was a film that was filled with anguish, frustration and the confusion of coming of age.
Kazan and Osborn only used the last quarter of John Steinbeck’s novel for the film. The centerpiece of the story does have biblical implications, and not unlike the tale of Cain and Abel it focuses on the relationships of fathers, sons, and brothers. The biblical aspect of the tale plays a pivotal role in the story. Dean plays a young man coming of age trying to understand where he comes from while living in the shadows of his brother who seems all too perfect. His father constantly disparages him without trying to understand him and shows no form of love. Cal is with his family but totally isolated from them and everyone around him.
To set the mood is a stunning set design with a breath taking landscape. The depiction of 1917 America comes to life before your eyes. Elia Kazan has a clear vision, using camera work that shows things from the character perspective while still being able to take in the scenery that surrounds him.
As the film progressed it loses it’s momentum and focus and the connection to the characters starts to dissipate. It’s unfortunate, but the magic and curiosity of what is going to happen feels almost squandered at a certain point, and then the characters never really feel like they’ve progressed. This stagnant standstill makes the moments of climax at the end feel leaps and bounds less poignant than it would have been if the empathy had continued.
It was a really great screenplay. It asks a lot of questions about the nature of people and what makes us good or bad. If it’s born or bred in us. Everything is explored threw the eyes of confused youth. Thoughts of love, honor, respect and righteousness becomes strong themes throughout. Each character in the film seems somewhat lost in the beginning and all are on a journey to discover who they ultimately are by questioning the nature of their struggles while unraveling the truths of life.
Really, the overture? That pretty much killed my anticipation and it took a lot to get my interest back. Thank the stars for James Dean being so damn captivating. Some of the performances are all over the place, his included, but you can’t take your eyes off of him for a second. His raw emotion is so vulnerable yet guarded when he looks into Abra. The connection between the two is incredible. Cal never seems to feel comfortable in his skin, and while his inability to stay still can be annoying it captures Cal’s confusion and disorientation in a world he doesn’t feel like he fits into. That emotion really translates through the screen.
The main theme East Of Eden translate is about the love of children their desire to be accepted and feel worthy of their parents expectations. The film may be fifty years old, but the theme is just as relevant. What started off as a very compelling character adventure did eventually lose it’s essence and a lot of it’s punch. Even so it was a pretty solid movie with a performance by James Dean that will have you interested enough to see what his awkwardly handsome and perplexing character would do. East Of Eden was a good one.
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