Monday, February 13, 2006

Favourite Movies #13 East of Eden

I'll preface this short review by saying that John Steinbeck's 1952 allegory is my second favourite book of all time. The movie only deals with the last third of the book but what's there is choice: from the initial haunting Leonard Rosenman theme to the final dramatic crecendo, this film has risen beyond a mere James Dean vehicle to a work of art. Unavailable for over 1o years (and a crap print at that), this 1955 film finally made its return in a deluxe DVD edition for Warners last year. Completely worth the wait, believe me. This lush pastoral symphomy captures the full wildness of California in 1917 and (inadvertantly) comments on 1955. The ultra-conservative, repressive '50s produced the ultimate rebel in Dean; his performance as Cal indeed contributed to his cult of wildness. He's as wild and unkempt as the flower brushed across his lips by Julie Harris, who is modulated and exciting as Abra. There are two moments that stay with me from the film: said flower scene taking place in a field of blowing goldenrod that simply fills the Cinemascope screen; and, in an electrifyingly Oedipal frenzy, Cal hurling good brother Aron in the lap of their prostitute mother. Jo Van Fleet is not as menacingly evil a Kate as Steinbeck created; despite the fact that she took home an Oscar, I would've liked to see her bare her teeth a little. Perhaps she's no match for Dean's rawness? Perhaps no one could be?
This film is the perfect example of one that I had to "come around" to. First seeing it over 10 years ago left no impression; seeing it again as an adult makes me fully appreciate the forces at work here. Forces like Dean, Harris, cinematographer Ted McCord, and of course John Steinbeck. For all of these reasons I will always come back to this movie.


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