Despite his incredibly short career, James Dean has gone down in history as one of the most iconic actors of his time. He was immensely talented, a fact that was showcased in his final film role opposite the Hollywood legends Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in Giant.
The film was based on the 1952 novel written by Edna Ferber. Famed Hollywood director George Stevens had already won an Oscar for A Place in the Sun and received a nomination for his Wild West film Shane prior to taking on the project of Giant. But his efforts on the three and half hour long film would pay off. Not only did he win his second Best Director Oscar in addition to nine other Academy Award nominations, but he created one of the most authentic Texas films of all time.
Giant centers around Jordan "Bick" Benedict, a Texan rancher played by Hudson. Taylor plays his socialite wife Leslie Lynnton, while Dean portrayed Jett Rink, the ranch hand. Bick meets Leslie on a trip to Maryland and brings her back to his Texas ranch, Reata, to start a family. They have three children together, Jordy, Judy, and Luz Benedict II. His older sister Luz, played by Mercedes McCambridge, runs the household and leaves Jett a little piece of land before her untimely death. Jett finds oil on his small patch of land and ends up becoming a successful oil tycoon. There's a love triangle between Jett, Leslie, and Bick as the story follows the three leads and their children into adulthood. Dennis Hopper, Fran Bennett, and Carroll Baker play Jordy, Judy, and Luz II, respectively.
Taylor's performance of Leslie was instrumental in changing the way people viewed female characters in Texas films. Leslie Benedict was full of strength and challenged the traditional Bick Benedict to better the conditions of his Mexican-American staff. Giant is an incredibly accurate portrayal of the ranching lifestyle in West Texas and the family traditions that were common in the deep South.
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Giant was filmed in the West Texas town of Marfa in the Summer of 1955, roughly six hours outside of Austin. Fans would flock to the small town during production to see its stars in between takes. According to Texas Monthly, Elizabeth Taylor was incredibly generous with her time to fans and would regularly sign autographs and pose for photos even after filming for hours in the hot Texas heat.
Director George Stevens went above and beyond during filming, capturing so much footage for the Warner Brothers film that it took a full year to edit down to its lengthy running time of over three hours. But despite going millions over budget, Giant ended up being a major box office hit and even set a record for Warner Bros that wasn't broken until the late '70s. The film earned both Dean and Hudson nominations for Best Actor, but Dean's performance really stands out as not only the best of his career but one of the best of all time.