Giant is a 1956 American drama film, directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean and features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor and Earl Holliman. Giant was the last of James Dean's three films as a leading actor, and earned him his second and last Academy Award nomination – he was killed in a car accident before the film was released. Nick Adams was called in to do some voice-over dubbing for Dean's role.
Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson), the head of the rich Benedict ranching family of Texas, goes to Maryland to buy a stud horse, War Winds. There he meets and courts the socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), who becomes his wife.
They return to Texas to start their life together on the family ranch, Reata owned and run by Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), Bick's sister. Leslie doesn't get along with Luz. Jett Rink (James Dean) works for Luz and hopes for to find his fortune by leaving Texas, he also has a secret love for Leslie. Luz expresses her hostility for Leslie by cruelly digging in her spurs while riding Leslie's beloved horse, War Winds. Luz dies after War Winds bucks her off, and as part of her will, Jett is given a plot of land within the Benedict ranch. Bick tries to buy back the land, but Jett refuses. Jett keeps the fenced off waterhole as his home and names the property Little Reata. Leslie eventually gives birth to twins, Jordan "Jordy" Benedict III (Dennis Hopper) and Judy Benedict (Fran Bennett), and a younger daughter named Luz Jr (Carroll Baker).
Jett discovers oil in footprint left by Leslie and develops his property. Bick is annoyed with Jett's prospecting and tries to deny him access to his land. Finally Jett hits his first gusher, he drives into the Benedict yard proclaiming in front of the entire family that he will be richer than the Benedicts. After Jett makes a rude comment to Leslie, Bick and Jett have a fistfight and Jett runs off. In the years before World War II, Jett starts an oil drilling company that makes him enormously wealthy. Bick initially resists the lure of oil wealth, preferring to remain a rancher. Ultimately, when the country needs oil for the war effort, he accepts involvement in the oil business while still maintaining the original business of his family.
In fact, in the postwar years, tensions in the Benedict household revolve around how the parents want to bring up their children. Bick stubbornly insists that Jordy must succeed him and run the ranch, but Jordy wants to become a doctor. Leslie wants Judy to attend finishing school in Switzerland, but Judy loves the ranch and wants to stay in Texas for her education. After war breaks out, Jett visits the Benedicts and tries to convince Bick to allow oil production to help the war effort. Bick realizes that there is nobody to take over the ranch after him, and concedes. During this visit, Luz Jr, now a teen-aged girl, starts flirting with Jett. Once oil production starts, the wealthy Benedict family becomes even wealthier.
The Benedict/Rink rivalry comes to a head when the Benedicts find Luz Jr. and the much older Jett Rink have been dating. At a huge gala Jett organizes in his own honor, an irate Jordy tries to fight him, after realizing he and his Mexican American wife, Juana (Elsa Cárdenas), were invited just so Jett's employees could turn Juana away. Jett has his goons hold Jordy and punches him out in front of the crowd. Fed up, Bick then takes Jett to a kitchen room, about to fight him, but realizes that Jett is a drunken shell of a man, who only has money. He tells him, "You're not even worth hitting...You're all through," and leaves, but not before symbolically and quite noisily caving in Rink's wine cellar shelves domino style. The party ends when Jett, completely drunk, slumps down in front of everyone before his big speech. Luz Jr. sees him afterwards, once everyone has left the ballroom, and discovers that he is a lonely, pathetic wreck.
The movie portrays how the oil industry transformed the Texas ranchers into the super rich of their generation.
A major sub-plot of the movie is the racism against Mexican Americans in Texas. When the movie starts, Bick and Luz are racist towards the Mexicans who work on their ranch, which upsets Leslie. By the end of the movie, though, Bick realizes the wrongs of racism and defends his daughter-in-law and grandson, Juana and Jordan Benedict IV, respectively and earns Leslie's respect. Another sub-plot involves the liberation the attaining of equal respect for women, as embodied in Leslie defying having her beliefs controlled by Bick, precipitating her separating from him for a spell.
The first part of the picture was shot in Albemarle County, Virginia, doubling for Maryland, and utilizing the Belmont estate near the Keswick railroad station, which depicted the "Ardmore, Maryland" railway depot. The film begins with Jordan "Bick" Benedict, played by Hudson, arriving at Ardmore to purchase a stallion from the Lynnton family.
Much of the subsequent film, depicting "Reata," the Benedict ranch, was shot in and around the town of Marfa, Texas, and the remote, dry plains found nearby, with interiors filmed at the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank, California. The "Jett Rink Day" parade and airport festivities were filmed at the nearby Burbank Airport.
The fictional character Jett Rink was based in part on oil tycoon Glenn Herbert McCarthy (1907-1988). Author Edna Ferber met with McCarthy when she booked a room at the Shamrock Hotel, on which the novel and film were based. In the film, the fictional Emperador Hotel was based on the former Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955) in Houston, Texas.
The film was premiered in New York City in November 1956 with the local DuMont station televising the arrival of cast and crew, as well as other celebrities and studio chief Jack Warner. Warner Brothers has included the vintage kinescope of the premiere festivities in New York, as well as interviews with cast members, in their special 50th anniversary DVD set.
Capitol Records, which had issued some of Dimitri Tiomkin's music from the soundtrack (with the composer conducting the Warner Brothers studio orchestra) on an LP, later digitally remastered the tracks and issued them on CD, including two tracks conducted by Ray Heindorf. There's a prevailing view expressed by some critics that Tiomkin reworked or "cannibalized" much of the Giant music for the soundtrack of John Wayne's bomb "Alamo" movie 7 years later.
Director George Stevens wanted to cast fading star Alan Ladd as Jett Rink, but his wife advised against it. The role went to James Dean. William Holden was a leading candidate for the role of Bick Benedict before Rock Hudson was eventually signed. Stevens gave Hudson a choice between Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to play his leading lady, Leslie. Hudson chose Taylor.
The film received an extremely positive response from critics, receiving a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. TV Guide gave the film its maximum of four stars, saying of James Dean's performance "This was the last role in Dean's all-too-brief career--he was dead when the film was released--and his presence ran away with the film. He performs his role in the overwrought method manner of the era, and the rest of the cast seems to be split between awe of his talent and disgust over his indulgence." Dean also chaffed under the constraints of the 'traditionalist' director George Stevens, who looked upon actors as merely part of a puzzle he cobbled together with an iron hand, conditioned from his experience harkening back to silent films. Perhaps the only scene in the film where Dean's method appears to escape Steven's stranglehold is where Bick and his powerful cronies attempt to cajole Jett out of his plot of land bequeathed to him by Luz. Dean's improvisational reactions to the rich men trying to con the "rube" are his best moments in the film and pure Dean.
Giant won the Academy Award for Best Director and was nominated nine other times, twice for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Dean and Rock Hudson). The other nominations came in the categories of Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Boris Leven, Ralph S. Hurst); Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; Best Picture; and Best Writing, Best Screenplay - Adapted.
American Film Institute recognition