More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Giant sees Rock Hudson’s Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr., owner of a large Texan ranch make his way over to Maryland to look at a racist horse he’s considering purchasing. Sorry, race horse. It’s Bick who’s the racist. I apologise to horsekind everywhere. There he meets Elizabeth Taylor’s Leslie Lynnton, soon to become Lynnton-Benedict as they marry and return to Texas, and we follow what they’ll be getting up to over the next two generations.

Back at the ranch, genteel socialite Leslie initially struggles to fit in, butting heads with Bick’s sister, Mercedes McCambridge’s Luz, over, amongst other things, treating these damn useless layabout Mexicans as though they’re, y’know, human. A ranch-hand, James Dean’s Jett Rink, takes an immediate fancy to Leslie, which starts, or perhaps just reinforces a beef with Bick which is promoted to full on enmity when Luz dies, leaving Rink a small plot of land inside what Bick sees as his domain.

The years pass, with the Benedicts raising a son and two daughters, with the joys and heartache that can cause, while Rink strikes oil on his plot of land (this seemingly being one of those reservoirs located two inches under the topsoil) and becomes wildly successful, but still left harbouring feelings for Leslie, further escalating the Rink-Benedict rivalry, all coming to a head just after the Benedict grandchildren are born.

The only thing I appreciate about this film was the rare opportunity to use “back at the ranch” in a purely factual manner. That, actually, is a little unfair. I don’t have a great deal in the negative column for Giant, it’s just that I don’t have much in the positives column, either. Both Hudson’s and Dean’s characters I find difficult to wish anything more than ill for, both being racist wankbadgers, and/or drunks, and/or abusive, and, sure, flawed characters are the essence of drama, but there’s little to no redeeming characteristics or actions for either of them, or arguably in Bink’s case, at least until way too late, and as the balance of power between these two is one of the main pillars of the film, not giving a fraction of a crap about either of them rather undermines the whole point of the exercise.

Of course, they, and by extension Texan society, are clearly not being presented in a positive light by director George Stevens. That’s partly the point of Leslie’s character. But, well, an occasional reminder that “racists are bad” isn’t enough to excuse a three hour twenty minute epic largely being around characters that are reprehensible, but not in any interesting way, because the characters aren’t truly examined or interrogated in any depth. Or perhaps at all, really. The other pillar, the sort-of love triangle, also just doesn’t feel very believable, coming across more as a glorified schoolboy crush that might be headed somewhere when it tilts at a relationship between Rink and one of the Benedict daughters, but that’s far too late in the film, and brushed past too quickly to be of much interest.

Overall, this is just a bit dull. Not really my cup of tea in the first place, but I also find it strange that a film that’s so long, covering so much time, says so little about anything. It looks pretty enough, and I’ve no real issue with any of the acting or other mechanistic aspects of the film. It’s just the narrative, well, isn’t doing much of interest to me, with characters that aren’t of interest to me, hence my disinterest. How this became such a huge hit at the time is something of a mystery to me, even with the amount of star power behind it. No thank you out of ten.