East of Eden
- Two-Disc Special Edition
Warner Home Video
Date: May 31, 2005
Review posted: May 31, 2005
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).
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
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
East of Eden
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.
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.
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.
The original theatrical trailer. This is a vintage gem.
A vintage documentary that looks back on the life and work of the
legendary star. Friends and co-stars tell some interesting stories.
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)
A test featuring Dean and co-star Richard Davalos. (6:00)
Several tests, Dean standing with various co-stars trying on outfits.
20 minutes of additional material, much of it very interesting.
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)
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.
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