An overture for a two hour movie? Why, oh why do you people feel the need to waste my time!
Screenplay By: Paul Osborn
Directed By: Elia Kazan
After finishing East Of Eden I feel the need to ask a question. Is James Dean really this bad of an actor or does he somehow massively improve in his next two films? My entire life I have heard the legend of James Dean and I’m left befuddled as to why there was ever a legend about this obvious Brando knock off. He does everything in the fashion he imagines Brando would, but without any of the subtlety. Dean thrashes about, throwing his body to and fro in obnoxiously manic fashion. In Dean’s mind acting like a petulant three year old constitutes acting, but that doesn’t cut it for me. So that’s why I must ask, what’s the appeal with Dean? He’s a low rent Brando in terms of sex appeal and he has none of the talent Brando brings to the table. East Of Eden had elements that could have pushed it into more satisfying territory, but Dean’s performance continually held it back.
Outside of Dean it’s impossible to say whether any of the other performances were good or bad, because the story never allowed us any time to care about the other characters. Aron and Father Trask are supposed to be the driving points for Cal’s “badness” yet we barely see hide nor hair of them and they fail to register in our minds as integral parts of the film. The mother is a bad MacGuffin, only popping up to serve some shallow purpose and then quickly exiting stage left. Julie Harris isn’t a bad actress and she does give the best performance in the film, but she reminds me too much of a more attractive Kathy Griffin, and I’d prefer to not be reminded of Kathy Griffin, thank you very much.
Story wise, East Of Eden is bare bones as all get out. The motivations for the characters are never fully fleshed out, the actions they take seem meaningless and therefore we never have any reason to care about their actions or the movie. Where East Of Eden falters the most, outside of Dean’s acting, is in its look. This wasn’t 1917 California, it was 1955 Hollywood. From Dean to the sets looking like obvious Hollywood sets, East Of Eden never gave me the feeling of being in an era outside the real life 1955 setting it was being filmed in.
On the plus side for as shallow as the story was, it did draw me in at points and there were moments where I was intrigued as to what was going to happen next. There were also moments when I liked what Kazan was doing with the camera, but they were few and far between. The bible allegory was obvious, but even in its obviousness it was interesting. The subplot with Gustav, the German immigrant, was extremely interesting, but sadly it was quickly ditched to get into more of Dean’s flailing around and Brando imping.
There aren’t many Elia Kazan fans in the world, his actions with HUAC have soiled him, but I don’t care much about what he did there and do enjoy his work. Unfortunately East Of Eden is a blunder on his part, thanks in large part to his willingness to allow James Dean free reign to throw himself about the film however he pleased. If Kazan wanted Brando he should have gotten Brando, Odin knows the film would have been much better for it. East Of Eden can easily be skipped, unless you are a huge James Dean fan, and then I have to hope you’re not a fan based on this film.