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East of Eden - Two-Disc Special Edition  (1955)

 

Rating: PG

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: May 31, 2005
Review posted: May 31, 2005

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Based on John Steinbeckís novel, James Dean plays Cal, a wayward Salinas Valley youth who vies for the affection of his hardened father (Raymond Massey) with his favored brother Aron (Richard Davalos).

 

CRITIQUE

 

James Deanís starring debut, East of Eden was the only film he made to be released during his lifetime, and it is the one that has the highest emotional pitch.  Kazan maintains a near operatic tone for the entire film, creating a family tragedy of biblical proportions.  Steinbeck wrote the novel partly out of his own fears that he had about his abilities as a father, and Elia Kazan saw much of his own father in Adam, the paternal character at the center of the story.  The result is a Cain and Abel story set against early 20th century America.

 

Adam (Massey) is a lettuce farmer, and he has this crazy idea that if he can pack his lettuce in ice, refrigerate it, he can ship it to markets in the northeast and grow his business.  Cal works for his father as though he were working for himself.  ďIf it doesnít work,Ē says one of the farmhands of Cal, ďit wonít be because of him.Ē  No one thinks Adamís plan will work, and it does not.  The first train out is stopped by bad weather in the Rockies, and Adam loses everything.  Cal, forever trying to gain his fatherís acceptance, starts looking for a way to make his fatherís money back.

 

Adam, for all his bible thumping and god fearing, is no saint.  He has had his two sons believing that their mother is dead, but Cal has discovered the truth.  In the first scene of the film, he follows Kate (Jo Van Fleet) through the streets of Monterey.  He has heard some rumors and now believes this woman to be his mother.  Kate is the opposite of Adam.  She owns a brothel and is a shrewd, successful businesswoman.  When she finally sits down with Cal, the two realize how alike they are.  Kate gives him the $5000 he needs to get his own business off the ground.

 

Cal wants to grow beans.  World War I is looming - though no one calls it that - and bean futures are looking bright.  With the five thousand he gets from Kate he buys the land and the beans, and when the war breaks out, the money starts rolling in.  By this time, though, Adam is working at the draft board, and he is all to aware of his role in the war; his signature sends young men potentially to their deaths.  Cal is something of a war profiteer, and Adam cannot take his money and live with himself.  Cal sees it as a rejection, and it is a punishment that he cannot take.  Cal finally confronts his father, and the emotional catharsis is stunning.  Kazan frames the scene in such a way that we are kept off balance.

 

Cal and Aron are always trying to one-up each other for their fatherís affections.  Aron comes to it easily, and he usually comes out ahead, but Cal holds the ace.  Aron believes his mother to be dead, and when Cal shows him the truth, shows him that his father has been lying to him all along, it is more than Aron can take.  He has a breakdown.  The truths his father told him were castles built on sand, and he was never prepared for them to come crashing down.

 

Cain does slay Abel in this story, but the death is an emotional one.  Aronís breakdown in turn leads to Adamís death, and Cal is left without ever getting his fatherís blessing.  Cal is the last one standing, the most lonely place to be.

 

James Dean gives a powerfully raw emotional performance in a role that earned him an Oscar nomination.  Kazanís direction is compelling, with enough style to enrich the material without being flashy.  This is the perfect adaptation of Steinbeckís novel, retaining the tragedy without getting bogged down.

 

THE VIDEO

 

East of Eden is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen format.  The transfer is pristine, free of any grains or scratches.  The film has been well preserved and cleaned up for this DVD, and the technicolor photography is expertly rendered.

 

THE AUDIO

 

This DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.  The presentation is exceptional, coming through sharply through all channels.  The film is short on big sound effects, but the sound quality is consistently great, free of any noticeable defects.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Disc One:

 

Commentary by Richard Schickel: Critic and historian Schickel gives some interesting historical insights into the making of the film, of Kazanís style, as well as analysis of each scene.

 

Theatrical Trailer: The original theatrical trailer.  This is a vintage gem.

 

Disc Two:

 

Forever James Dean: A vintage documentary that looks back on the life and work of the legendary star.  Friends and co-stars tell some interesting stories. (60:00)

 

East of Eden: Art In Search of Life: A look at Steinbeck and his intentions in writing the novel, and a look at the translation from novel to film.  We hear from scholars, Steinbeckís son, and critics.  (20:00)

 

Screen Tests: A test featuring Dean and co-star Richard Davalos.  (6:00)

 

Wardrobe Tests: Several tests, Dean standing with various co-stars trying on outfits.  (22:00)

 

Deleted Scenes: 20 minutes of additional material, much of it very interesting.

 

3/9/1955 New York Premiere: Vintage footage of the filmís world premiere, classic red carpet stuff.  We hear a few words from Steinbeck, Kazan, Raymond Massey, Jack Warner, and celebrities of the day like Eva Marie Saint, Milton Berle, and others.  (15:00)

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Available on DVD for the first time, East of Eden is perhaps the best of the three films in which James Dean starred.  The film is operatic, saying as much about Steinbeck as it does about the California in which he grew up.  The characters are rich, vividly drawn, and the direction perfectly compliments the material.  This set is made all the better by the detailed bonus materials, which give an interesting look at Dean, the film, and the epic novel on which it was based.

 

VERDICT: DVD COLLECTOR SERIES

 

Home | Back to Top

 

:: The DVD

 

:: DVD Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

10

THE VIDEO

10

THE AUDIO

10

THE EXTRAS

9

OVERALL

10

 

:: Merchandise