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Wick's Review

Created Apr 21, 2019 02:18AM PST • Edited Apr 26, 2019 04:09AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    Great American Movies based on Great American Novels reveal new insights at increasingly greater remove. Dating from 1955 and set in 1917, East of Eden is greatly insightful about the changes in America in the near half century between when it was set and made, and the half century plus between then and now.

    It was also the movie that made James Dean a star, the first of the three he made before his untimely death. And a star he was, jumping offscreen as a pretty-boy weirdo prone to acting out. His quintessential misunderstood youth led to his being cast as the ultimate misunderstood youth in Rebel Without a Cause.

    This movie adaptation of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck’s magnum opus takes considerable liberties with the book. What comes through now in 2019 is how it foretells the trend of family breakdown in modern and post-modern American society, showing that when a parent loses moral standing, the kids suffer.

    It’s also a classic American tale about a common man of great rectitude, a war veteran who reads the bible with his sons. He lives in small town America surrounded by earnest Americans, the kind of people who dream of being perfect mothers and fathers. Some of those elements are specific to the story, but they flow naturally because they are consistent with the cultural norms that existed before the counterculture deluge.

    In the end, East of Eden celebrates meanness over goodness, presaging the age of the anti-hero and degradation of virtue. The movie’s indictment of hypocrisy is valid, of course, but the degradation of virtue suggests we have no chance of ever again approaching Eden. Instead, we now bob about in the deluge.

  3. Very Good 3.5

    James Dean is the very picture of tortured soul, following in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. He’s also exceptionally telegenic, much more so than Julie Harris, who plays the love interest, an odd twist in Hollywood casting.

    • Richard Davalos looks like a teen idol as Dean’s twin brother.
    • Raymond Massey plays their father in fairly bland fashion.
    • Julie Harris is a great actress, if not a great beauty, especially when paired with Dean & Davalos.
    • Burl Ives has great gravitas the sheriff.
    • Jo Van Fleet is more forbidding than formidable as a Madam. Van Fleet won an Oscar for her performance.
  4. Male Stars Really Great 4.5
  5. Female Stars Good 3.0
  6. Female Costars Good 3.0
  7. Male Costars Very Good 3.5
  8. Great 4.0

    The film adroitly limns the complicated push-pull of a father-son relationship, even absent family secrets.

  9. Direction Great 4.0
  10. Play Great 4.0
  11. Music Good 3.0
  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5
  13. Content
  14. Tame 1.5

    Ignore the posters that promise sexy brothel action. It doesn’t exist in the movie itself.

  15. Sex Innocent 1.4
  16. Violence Gentle 1.5
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.7
  18. Glib 1.3

    The novel was set entirely in Salinas, including the brothel that puts the conflict in motion.
    The movie moves the brothel over the mountain to Monterey. Salinas is east of Monterey.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 2.0
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0

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