East of Eden (1955)
Man has a choice and it’s a choice that makes him a man.
— Cal Trask
East of Eden was a movie that I wanted to see for a long time, but I never get the chance to do until recently. I wasn’t familiar with James Dean’s work until this point. All I know what the legend behind the man. Dean was the first actor to be nominated for an Oscar posthumously. This film was nominated for four Oscars including a Best Actor nom for Dean, Best Director for Elia Kazan and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won Best Supporting Actress for Jo Van Fleet. I’m surprised that this film got so much attention, because it’s not very good.
The only familiarity I have with John Steinbeck and his work was going to my former high school’s production of The Grapes of Wrath. This movie was adapted from another Steinbeck novel by Paul Osborn that deals with a young man named Cal Trask (James Dean) living in 1917 Salinas, California. First of all, I almost laughed out loud knowing this, because you don’t see many men wearing a cream sweater, dress shirt and slacks back then.
Cal is a troubled young man who does not get along with his farmer father, Adam (Raymond Massey) who treats his like a redheaded step-son. His relationship with his all-American type brother, Aron (Richard Davalos) is strained as well. Cal cannot stand that he is perfectly happy with Abra (Julie Harris) who he intends to marry.
Shaking things up, Cal hops a train to Monterrey where he is trying to find his mother that abandoned the family years before. He potentially finds her in Kate (Jo Van Fleet), a madam running a brothel at the edge of town. Cal tries to forge a relationship with her, but she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him or her old life.
She does have a change of heart when Adam’s investment in transporting his lettuce crop on rail car goes awry. Cal asks her for money to go into a business venture to repay the money that Adam had lost.
I was fully expecting to be swept away with the tale of a misunderstood youth trying to find his way through life. I did not get that. The opening was very awkward and creepy with Cal following Kate to her house. I don’t know. The movie was going on and on and I didn’t like it one bit.
I tried to latch on to the relationship between Cal and Kate forging a bond, not mother and son, but being cordial to each other. Then, I tried to go into the possible love triangle between Cal, Abra, and Aron. There was one part that I liked was the tension between the German immigrant, Gustav Albrecht (Harold Gordon) and the residents who wanted to get the German for what was happening during WWI.
Judgment: How could I recommend this movie? I can’t. Sorry.
Posted on November 16, 2010, in 1955, Academy Award Winner, Best Supporting Actress, Drama and tagged Burl Ives, East of Eden, Elia Kazan, James Dean, Jo Van Fleet, John Steinbeck, Julie Harris, Paul Osborn, Raymond Massey, Richard Davalos. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.