No matter what you think of the 1956 epic Giant — some love it as an all-time favorite, some find it overblown — Don Graham’s book is an entertaining case study for anyone who wants to understand how Hollywood lived and breathed in the mid-1950s. His behind-the-scenes story provides as much drama as director George Stevens’ sometimes lumbering movie about a handsome but hidebound cattle baron who brings his East Coast bride to a not-so-little house on the prairie.
Graham’s book, one of several the University of Texas at Austin professor has written about the intersection of pop culture and Texana, is a compelling behind-the-camera look at one of the 1950s’ most unusual — and successful — mainstream Hollywood productions, a film that celebrates Texas’ most enduring virtues even as it criticizes some of its most tragic shortcomings ... Graham doesn’t skimp on the small-town West Texas weirdness, movie-biz trickery (fake tumbleweeds, fake cattle) or on-set shenanigans ... Some of the details Graham digs up about the leading actors’ personal lives are juicy enough for Confidential magazine, the Hollywood scandal sheet that had Hudson’s agent cutting deals to keep his client out of its pages.
The film’s stars, locations and production shenanigans reflect the ducktail, fender-fin decade, which means opening the pages of this book is like breaking into a time capsule ... Graham provides a solid historical context for Giant ... But is Giant legendary as art? Or is it now simply a 1950s artifact? Graham answers this question less satisfactorily. Although he provides expert analyses of some sequences in the film, he struggles to evoke the overall sense of how Giant looks, sounds and affects a viewer. For instance, he devotes one general paragraph to Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, overlooking the alternately silken and blaring themes that drive the film for three hours and 21 minutes. Graham also stints on description of the look of the film ... Had Graham considered in more detail what Stevens captured , he could have made even stronger his strong case for Giant as a 'legendary' work.
This splendid making-of book covers everything from casting to on-set clashes between stars (and between stars and director) to the staging of key scenes to choosing filming locations. The book also features in-depth biographies of the film’s three leads, because you can’t tell the story of this classic film without telling the stories of its stars, who were as tortured as their characters in their own ways. A sharp, insightful look at a legendary film.
...a lively study of a book and movie that helped define the image of Texas in the last century. Graham looks at both the Edna Ferber novel (which Texas hated) and the George Stevens movie (which Texas loved). The difference between the two? The novel, as Wright explains, 'popularized the image of Texas millionaires as greedy but colorful provincials, whose fortunes were built largely on luck rather than hard work.' The movie softened those edges and yielded something in which the state could take pride ... Graham’s book is more specific in its focus, with many of the pages devoted to the interactions between the movie’s stars — James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor — and their determined director, George Stevens. Within this framework, however, lurks the question of Texan identity, and the state’s aversion to being messed with ... Giant isn’t a paean to the state, but it doesn’t eliminate Ferber’s more acidic touches, especially where racism against Mexicans is involved.
While deeply researched and efficiently paced, Graham’s account does little to transcend the making-of genre of film books, and Graham’s strangely judgmental tone toward Giant’s stars is likely to leave readers feeling cold.