* AdaptationDisplacement: As Creator/JamesDean has gone down as a pop culture icon, the movie tends to be more remembered than the book. Fans are surprised that the movie only deals with the last third of the book - and the entire story spans a generation.
** With regards to how 'good' Aron is at the start of the film. He's well behaved yes, but there are hints that he's something of a BitchInSheepsClothing. In the Ferris Wheel scene, Abra talks about how Aron says they're in love and tells her what their lives are going to be like. She also implies that she feels she has to suppress her own personality in order to live up to Aron's ridiculously high standards of what 'good' is - implying that he's every bit as controlling as his father. Then again, in early scenes at least he does seem to have affection for Cal when no one else does. But how much of that is down to Cal being TheUnfavourite? A wedge only starts coming between the two brothers when Cal starts being proactive - does Aron feel threatened that Cal might replace him as the favourite son?
** A DeletedScene included on the DVD between the two brothers gives the suggestion that Aron is far more manipulative than he seems - and that his status as the 'good' son comes from him essentially performing and imitating his father.
** Kate in the film is treated with a more sympathetic edge than in the book, leaving it possible that she regrets running out on her two sons. The first conversation between her and Cal starts off very affectionately, but her walls go up as soon as he tells her he's there to talk money. So it's possible she may have wanted to reach out to them, but didn't out of fear they would reject her. Or perhaps shame that she's the madam of a brothel now.
* AwardSnub: Some feel that Julie Harris deserved a Best Actress or Supporting Actress nomination. These days, some viewers claim she comes close to stealing the movie from Creator/JamesDean.
* CriticalDissonance: At the time, many critics scoffed at the film. Creator/JamesDean was called a poor man's Creator/MarlonBrando. Nonetheless the film was a hit with audiences and Dean became a star overnight.
* EnsembleDarkhorse: Kate in the film is a very memorable character, despite having about 10 minutes of screen time. The Academy agreed, apparently, giving Jo Van Fleet an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
* FanPreferredCouple: Cal and Anne - Kate's maid - has a lot of traction, due to the chemistry between them when Cal visits the saloon.
* HarsherInHindsight: The film adaption opens with the exposition "In northern California, the Santa Lucia Mountains, dark and brooding, stand like a wall between the peaceful agricultural town of Salinas and the rough and tumble fishing port of Monterey, fifteen miles away." Since the late 20th Century this has been flipped around as Salinas has become dangerously violent with gang related crime while Monterey has become a quiet, successful, tourist city partially because of the works of John Steinbeck.
* HeartwarmingInHindsight: Abra and Cal's growing connection is this with the knowledge that Julie Harris was essentially the same on set with everyone. Elia Kazan called her "one of the most beautiful people I ever met".
* HoYay: Not necessarily in the film, but present in one screen test between Creator/JamesDean and Richard Davalos. In the scene, Cal takes his shirt off in front of Aron and the two wrestle on the floor. The scene isn't in the film, possibly to avoid any IncestSubtext.
* [[MagnificentBastard Magnificent Bitch]]: Cathy.
* NarmCharm: Some of Cal's mannerisms in the movie are genuinely bizarre. But James Dean imbues him with such sincere emotion, it doesn't detract from the power of the scenes. At least not to a degree that ruins the film.
** There's something subtly terrifying about Aron's ReasonYouSuckSpeech to Cal. Aron had previously appeared to be a kind and courteous sort. But here the gloves come off and he chews Cal out - telling him how horrible and worthless he is. Remember that this is coming from the one person who at the start of the film had loved and defended Cal. The focus is on Abra's reaction to this as she listens - and it's strongly implied she's just had her image of Aron shattered.
** To say nothing of Aron [[spoiler: after he finds out the truth about Kate. Adam last sees him on the train heading off to enlist in the army. He's LaughingMad and even smashes his head through a window when he sees his father]].
* OneSceneWonder: In the film, there's Kate's maid Anne. She has a lengthy sequence where Cal tries to coax Kate's whereabouts out of her, after which she's not seen again. She's still very memorable and has quite a lot of chemistry with Creator/JamesDean.
** Early in the film when Cal rides on top of the train, it's a very obvious blue screen effect.
** Throughout the film, it's very obvious which scenes have been dubbed. In some cases, the characters' mouths don't even move.
* UnintentionallyUnsympathetic: For some, Cal crosses the MoralEventHorizon when [[spoiler: he tells Aron the truth about their mother and takes him to the brothel. He does so with the full intention of hurting him. This results in Aron completely going off the deep end and running off to enlist in the war]]. The fact that this plot point is dropped and left unresolved makes it a little hard to sympathise with Cal.
** In the novel the two 14-year-olds who try to have sex with Cathy, age 10, defend themselves by saying Cathy initiated things and charged them money. They are telling the truth, but regardless of this many modern readers will still see the boys' behavior with Cathy as child rape, no matter how manipulative and willing she was.
** Modern readers may feel the same way about her 28 year old Latin teacher's attempt to seduce her when she was 14.
** The narrator describes the the Native Americans who first inhabited Salinas Valley as a "an inferior breed without energy, inventiveness, or culture" who were too lazy to work the land and thus deserved to lose it. Later, when describing Adam's participation in the Indian Wars, the narrator claims that their extermination was sad but unavoidable.
* VindicatedByHistory: Both the book and the film got mixed reviews when they were released, although both have gained a lot of admiration in the decades since.
* WhatDoYouMeanItsNotSymbolic: The epic religious symbolism is the entire point of the book.
* TheWoobie: Cal is one of the most famous Woobies in film history. He believes himself to be nothing but trouble and seems to have a ThenLetMeBeEvil attitude to him. Despite this, he just seems desperate for someone to love him. Creator/JamesDean was in a similar situation; he too had a troubled relationship with his father, and would often veer off script during filming to break down. One such instance of this is the scene where Adam rejects his present; the script called for Cal to get angry but Dean played the scene sadly instead.