East of Eden (1955)
When director Elia Kazan realized Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift were too old to play the brothers in his adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, he went looking for new talent. Boy, did he find it! In his first starring role (and the only one of his major films released during his lifetime), James Dean burns up the screen with inner turmoil. He’s cast as Cal, the tortured Cain to Richard Davalos’s Abel and Raymond Massey’s Adam in coastal California on the eve of World War I. Rejection dominates Dean’s performance as he strives to win his father’s love, finds himself drawn to his brother’s girlfriend (Julie Harris), and discovers his mother (Jo Van Fleet) is running a brothel in a nearby town.
Working with cinematographer Ted McCord, Kazan reflected Cal’s emotional turmoil in his creative use of the widescreen image. This was Kazan’s first film shot in color and CinemaScope, and he frequently tilts the camera to intensify a scene’s emotional impact. He also worked with composer Leonard Rosenman to make the score mirror Cal’s inner life. At the time, many reviewers lauded Kazan’s move into widescreen while complaining that Dean’s performance was just an imitation of early Brando. More recent critics have hailed the film as Kazan’s and Dean’s best. Van Fleet won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress with her film debut, with additional nominations going to Kazan, Dean, and Paul Osborn’s adapted screenplay.
d. Elia Kazan, 118 minutes, DCP
World premiere restoration courtesy of Warner Bros. Classics
Restored by Warner Bros. in collaboration with the Film Foundation