Giant, and a few more films

Giant (1956)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Almost 3½  hours long, Technicolor, and big as Texas, Giant is indeed large. I'd seen it many years ago, and remembered it as a sprawling soap opera, maybe the lost pilot episode for Dallas, but basically empty.

It's better than that, though — big-time all-star Hollywood to excess, with some corny but marvelous moments and mawkish but heartfelt 1950s progressive sentiment.

#289  [archive]
MAY 11, 2024

Jordan Benedict (Rock Hudson) is the owner of a Texas cattle ranch that stretches infinity and a half. He inherited the ranch from his pappy, who inherited it from his pappy, who stole it from long-forgotten people who aren't mentioned in the movie. Jordan is a very Texan very Republican, racist and mean as raw meat but thinks he's a gentleman.

Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) is his wife, who comes from a rich family herself, but has a hint of a heart. New to Texas as a newlywed, she talks with the mansion's staff as if they're people, and sends the family's doctor to tend to a Mexican worker's sick child. Jordan is aghast at this.

Jett Rink (James Dean) is a lowly ranch hand, who talks to himself, muttering his hatred for his boss: "Ain't nobody king in this country." He lusts after Leslie, and looks down on the Mexican workers he calls 'wetbacks'. When he strikes oil on his small plot of land, it's what changes Texas from a cattle economy to oil, and suddenly the impudent Jett is richer than the Benedicts.

The movie idolizes immeasurably wealthy people, and loves cattle and oil and Texas, but it's still a fine flick, with widescreen drama, testosterone, and some laughs, too.

With Earl Holliman, Dennis Hopper, Mercedes McCambridge, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Chill Wills, and Sheb Wooley ("The Purple People Eater"). Directed by George Stevens (The Diary of Anne Frank, Shane).

Verdict: YES.

In the second half of the movie, like any Hollywood epic, the principal actors are given fake wrinkles and gray hair. I'm not into movie star adulation, and James Dean is hammy here and not at his best, but it's sad to see him as the older man he never was.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Giant Claw (1957)
Streaming free at Tubi

This opens with a joke about sexual spankings, and lots of wisecracks follow, most of which aren't funny, but that's OK. It's not a comedy. It's black-and-white sci-fi about a big and invisible bird from another planet, attacking humans and anything that moves. 

The script sincerely tries to make that concept make sense, and along the way pre-invents the Stealth fighter. The spacebird, though, looks shabby and fake, and leading man Jeff Morrow was 50, far too long in the jowls to be plausibly flirting with his 20-something leading lady.

The movie ain't much, but it's a pleasant way to pass an hour.

Verdict: YES, I guess.  

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Giant from the Unknown (1958)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

There's a giant Spanish conquistador in the woods, who's been in suspended animation for 500 years so now he's hungry. 

The monster looks great, thanks to makeup by the legendary Jack Pierce, who designed the cinematic look of Frankenstein '31, The Mummy '32, and The Wolf Man '41. Other than that, though, there's nothing to see here. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This winking adventure with spiders from outer space is harmless, mostly lifeless '70s schlock. The story is a rerun, the effects are a failure, and the spiders are tarantulas (from space, I guess). 

Improbably, Leslie Parrish plays a woman who can't get her husband's amorous interest. Barbara Hale runs the planetarium, and Alan Hale (no relation) is the sheriff who reads science fiction, and says, "Hello, little buddy," when someone walks into the office.

The spacy music, un-credited, sounds like is was kiped from Musical Starstreams, but if you're gonna steal, steal from the best.

Verdict: MAYBE.  

♦ ♦ ♦  

Gina (1975)
a/k/a Stone Cold Revenge
Available on DVD from your local library

This is purportedly about a stripper who's gang raped and gets bloody revenge. There aren't many moviemakers I'd trust with such a story, but director Denys Arcand made Jesus of Montreal, so I took a chance. What he delivers is about one-third of a good movie, but to explain how and why it falls short, we need to leave this film and enter another.

Arcand had tried to make a documentary about mistreatment of workers in textile mills. When the mill owners realized that Arcand's movie would be scandalous instead of flattering, they complained to the National Film Board of Canada, which had funded the film, and on request, the NFB immediately cancelled the funding.

That doc, On est au coton, was completed and released several years later, but meanwhile Arcand still felt strongly about the textile workers' mistreatment, so in making Gina, he padded the script with dialogue taken word-for-word from the scuttled documentary.

Which makes this a very strange hybrid — you're waiting for bloody mayhem, while everyone's talking about working at the mill, and there's a subplot about filmmakers making a documentary but getting their funding yanked. There's also plenty of just plain padding, including a game of pool filmed in its entirety. 

When the bloody mayhem finally arrives it's OK, but the woman's revenge isn't hers — it's her male buddies who do the violence. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Ginger in the Morning (1972)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Sissy Spacek plays a free-spirited hitchhiker, picked up by the lonely and recently-divorced Monte Markham. The setting and script are painfully earnest, trying to be a rom com for a new generation, but it's dated and about as satisfying as reduced-calorie cotton candy.

It feels like an overlong episode of Love American Style, with original songs by Sissy Spacek.

Verdict: NO.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Girl Asleep (2015)
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
Girl Crazy (1943)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Girls Can't Swim
The Girls of Huntington House

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting recommendations for movies,
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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