That’s ok and credit should be given to them for at least attempting a 20’s look while keeping the stars in a semi contemporary look that movie fans always demanded of their movie stars. All three leads were in their 20’s and beautiful but age into their 60’s rather unconvincingly in the tedious and dull 2nd part of the film.
Rock Hudson looking ravishing did a good job in the lead romantic role of Jordan Bick Benedict the big male honcho and owner of his sprawling ranch Reata. Hudson who was a better actor than given credit for, shares the ownership with his very butch and probably gay sister Luz played by the commanding actress Mercedes McCambridge who leaves the film way to early for my liking and takes the tanginess she brought to the role with her. Too bad. The film opens with Rock heading out to Maryland to pick up a thoroughbred horse for breeding. At dinner with the owner and his family, Rock takes one look at his older daughter the ravishing Elizabeth Taylor (there’s a lot of ravishing in the movie) and he falls in madly in love with her.
I love this vast and detailed house and it’s really like a brooding character in the film, never mind that it was just a wooden facade with the interiors done on the Warner Bros. lot. Luz is soon bitching and complaining about Liz and you know there are going to be good fireworks coming down the pike.
The next spark to show up is ah James Dean one of the great male beauties ever to appear in movies and who was dead and gone by the time the film wrapped up and his final scenes had to be partly dubbed by the actor Nick Adams. Dean is great of course as Jed Rink the moody ranch hand and just watching him walk and move in his tight and worn jeans is in itself one of the pleasures of the film. His performance is also riveting and is a mini class in great film acting. Dean was on his way reinventing, transposing and transporting film acting to a new level that hadn’t been this extreme and new since James Cagney exploded in “Public Enemy”. Dean along with Brando and Clift were giving us a new look and feel to male film acting and in this film Jimmy was pushing the envelope all the way down that dusty Texas road.
His scenes with Taylor are especially moving and memorable and for me are the most compelling scenes in the film, and maybe he was a little in love with her in real life. His making her tea in his little ramshackle little shack just before he hits the oil big on his little patch of land that was left to him by his only friend is very touching and honest.
There are many strings and loose ends that Stevens does well with, after all he was a fine maker of movies going back to his comedy shorts and his work with Wheeler and Woolsey. This is the guy who also made what many consider the best Astaire and Rogers musical and gave Katherine Hepburn her Hepburn in “Alice Adams” and “Woman Of The Year.” George had style to go around but he sometimes spread it too thin. There are some nice stuff with the landscape, trains running, horses roaming and racism looming large and obvious, George was also liberal and very left for the time and sometimes found himself at odds with the more far right among his peers, the most notable being Cecil B. DeMille who tried to take him down and his presidency of the Directors Guild but that’s another story. Meanwhile back at the ranch, children are born who grow up to be Carroll Baker very good and lovely and Dennis Hopper also very good and lovely. Some go off to war and some don’t. Probably the most beautiful and moving scene in the film for me was the sad homecoming of Sal Mineo one of the young Mexican children who is nourished and saved by the left leaning progressive Liz who has several arguments with Rock over her progressive views and ways. If you get the De-Lux dvd release, there are many fun extras on it including the opening night premiere of the film at the Roxy Theatre where Dennis Hopper introduces his date for the night, a young and unknown Joanne Woodward one year away from stardom and an Oscar.