Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


EAST OF EDEN (1955). Director: Elia Kazan.

"You kept on forgiving us, but you never really loved us."

"It's awful not to be loved. It's the worst thing in the world."

In  1917 Monterey, Adam Trask (Raymond Massey), with his sons Caleb (James Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos), try to make a killing with lettuce kept fresh with ice, but they have bigger problems than hoping this new business will succeed. Aron has always planned to marry Abra (Julie Harris), but there is a growing attraction between her and Cal, who never feels he had his father's love. In the meantime Cal discovers that his supposedly dead mother, Kate (Jo Van Fleet) is actually running a brothel not too far away, something his brother is unaware of. Then there are tensions created by the advent of WW1, and Aron's initial decision to stay out of the fighting. First of all, anyone expecting a literal transcription of John Steinbeck's novelistic take on Cain and Abel must look elsewhere, because this movie only concerns a portion of a very long book, and it makes changes to the plot and characterizations. Taken on it's own terms, however, East of Eden is still a masterpiece, with a wonderful, committed cast, fine direction from Kazan, high-grade cinematography from Ted McCord, and an interesting score by Leonard Rosenman. Whatever impression Dean may have made off-screen, the camera certainly loves him, and this movie probably showcases his mystique the best of his three movies; he is excellent. Although Dean got the lion's share of the attention, Davalos is also compelling as his brother, and there is also some fine work from Van Fleet, Harris and Massey. Burl Ives and Albert Dekker have significant roles and are also good, as is Barbara Baxley as an unpleasant nurse who shows up late in the picture. Yes, there are scenes that are too stagy, dialogue that is too obvious [Dekker unnecessarily bringing up Cain and Abel, as if the audience is too stupid to get it], but the picture is totally absorbing and has a deeply moving wind-up.

Verdict: Hollywood at its best. ****.

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