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Film / Giant

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Giant is a 1956 Epic Movie directed by George Stevens, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. Adapted from the 1952 novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, the film is more famous for being James Dean's last role (some of his lines had to be dubbed).

The film, which spans from the 1920s to the early '50s, is a saga of the Benedict family, beginning when Texan Rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Hudson) heads east to Maryland to purchase War Winds from Dr. Lynnton and ends up marrying his daughter, socialite Leslie (Taylor). They start life at Bick's ranch, Reata, and have three children. Leslie, who has a hard time dealing with the sexism and racism of Bick and bascially everyone around her, leaves Bick for a time but they eventually reconcile. After Bick's sister dies, she leaves local handyman Jett Rink (Dean) a small plot of land, which he refuses to sell to Bick even though he's offered twice its value. He then strikes oil, which eventually happens around the region with even Bick getting rich off oil after he swore to keep the ranch only cattle. Bick's attitudes are put to the test when his kids grow up and not only do none of them want to run the ranch after him, but his only son Jordy (Dennis Hopper) marries Juana, a Mexican-American.

The movie culminates in the opening of Jett Rink's hotel and airport, and at the big party Jordy tries to fight Jett Rink when he finds out that him and his wife were only invited so that Jett's employees could deny them service. Bick almost gets into a fight with Jett away from the eyes of the people, but is so disgusted by the wasted, over-the-hill shell of a man that Jett has become that Bick simply tells him there's no point in beating him down — and later Jett passes out at his own party. Later on the way home, they stop at a diner and Bick gets into a fight with the racist owner when he refuses to serve a Mexican family — while he doesn't win the fight, he does reignite the love and respect of his wife.

This work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the novel, Bick is not present at the diner toward the end, and so the famous Diner Brawl doesn't happen. Only his wife, daughter and Mexican daughter-in-law are there, and they simply leave without causing any trouble when the diner owner orders them out.
    • Jett is certainly no hero in the film, but he's even worse in the novel, in which he directly causes Luz' death by encouraging her to ride a horse, My Mistake, that he both knows has not been tamed and has drugged to make him even wilder.
  • The Alcoholic: Jett's drinking problem is more pronounced in the novel, in which we learn that Bick has fired him a dozen times for acting out while drunk but hires him back for the wonders he can perform while sober, but it is still present in the film. He takes a belt of Liquid Courage when Leslie comes to visit him at Little Reata; after striking it rich, he drunkenly crashes into the back of a parked car and assaults its shocked owner; and he gets completely off his face at his hotel's grand opening night and passes out just before he can begin his big speech.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Jett gets absolutely smashed before he is due to give a big speech at the opening of his new hotel and airport, and passes out cold immediately after being introduced. Once the room has emptied of guests and Jett comes to, he goes on a drunken rant in the banquet hall about how he failed to get Leslie from Bick, then falls over forward and knocks the head table over.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Luz's crush on Jett Rink, they later start dating.
  • Auto Erotica: Jett Rink and Luz II.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Jett drunkenly rants in the empty hall at the end of his failed celebration about how he wasn’t given anything in life and had to fight for and take it all, and that Bick is lucky - at first it comes off as him being jealous that Bick started off rich and never had to work for his money - then he says Bick is lucky to be "her" husband - revealing that he’s actually lamenting how he "lost" Leslie to Bick and never got over his infatuation with her. Luz II, her daughter who actually loves him, hears all this, and leaves from the implication that he saw her as a Replacement Goldfish for her mother.
  • Big Fancy House: The main house at Reata is a three-storey Victorian mansion; it gets even bigger and fancier after they make money in oil, with the interior decoration and furniture changing to reflect both the passage of time and the Benedicts' increasing fortune.note 
  • Bookshelf Dominoes: Bick confronts Jett in his wine cellar after Jett attacks Jordy. He decides he's not worth punching, but he still decides to cost Jett a fortune in booze by hurling a large cask at a shelf of wine bottles, which topples over into several others, filling the room with broken glass and spilled alcohol.
  • Brainy Brunette:
    • Leslie is very witty and well-read, reading huge thick books from her doctor father's library at home and she is raven-haired like Elizabeth Taylor.
    • Juana to a lesser extent, she is dark haired and assists Dr. Guerra in his work as a nurse.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Jett Rink is introduced as a slack ranch hand. When he discovers oil on his small plot of land, He is able to exploit it fully and becomes a successful businessman.
  • Broken Pedestal: Luz II has a crush on Jett, seeing him as a dashing oil magnate in spite (or perhaps because) of her father's hatred of him, and they eventually begin dating. When she sees him drunkenly rant to an empty banquet hall about how he "lost" Leslie to Bick, her crush instantly fades.
  • Cattle Drive: There are several scenes of the thousands of cattle in Reata's herds being rounded up for branding or driving out to be sold for their beef.
  • Central Theme: The constantly changing face of family.
  • Cool Horse: War Winds. Bick buying the horse was how he met Leslie and later, his sister Luz riding the horse with spurs led to her death.
  • Cool Old Guy: Uncle Bawley, who could be also considered a piano player of sorts.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: One lady comments about how she likes how Texas is a place to outspend everyone.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Luz takes a strong interest in Jett Rink, her father's rival.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Luz is named after her aunt, who died before she was born.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Leslie, a more gracious and soft-spoken variety than most. She has a zinger after Bick tells her that politics is "men's stuff".
    Leslie: Men's stuff? Lord have mercy, (turns to the other women in their corner) set up my spinning wheel girls, I'll be joining the harem in a moment.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Jett feels this way about Leslie, and it colours his conduct for the rest of the movie.
  • Dirty Old Man: Jett Rink grows into one of these; he even courts the youngest (teenage) daughter of Bick and Leslie.
  • Diner Brawl: Bick gets into a fight with Sarge, a racist diner owner who only reluctantly serves his family when he sees Juana and the mixed-race Jordan IV, and outright refuses to serve a Mexican family. Bick loses.
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Bick takes his new bride Leslie on a railroad trip to his cattle ranch in Texas. When she looks out the window at the passing scenery and wonders when they'll get to Texas, he announces that they've been in Texas for several hours already. Also, in the beginning of the movie, David asks how big Bick's property is. He guesses 20-50 thousand acres. Bick reluctantly says that he has 595 thousand acres of land.note 
  • Fainting: Leslie faints when she is overcome by the heat. This makes Luz disapprove of her more. But she bounces back and vows never to faint again. Bick is still concerned for her though.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Luz doesn't like Leslie riding War Winds, saying she'd "fall off and break her neck", but this is what happens to Luz.
    • As Jett leaves from rejecting Bick's attempt to buy him out of the plot of land Luz left him in her will, he overhears one of the other guests at her funeral mentioning that Luz saw land as far more valuable than money, and then overhears another conversation in which one guest tells another that they have just set up an oil well that is producing a million dollars' worth every month. Fast forward a few years, and Jett makes a fortune when he discovers oil on the land Luz left him. (Bick eventually drills for oil at Reata and makes a tidy sum himself, but nowhere near as much as Jett.)
    • At the twins' fourth birthday party, Jordy cries when made to ride the horse he received as a gift from his father, but is fascinated with the doctor kit he also received.
  • Frontier Doctor:
    • Leslie brings Dr. Guerra, who helps work with the Mexican-American community at Reata.
    • Jordy becomes a modern version of one of these.
  • Happily Married: Bick and Leslie may have their disagreements - mostly because Bick's traditional Texan attitudes toward race and gender roles clash with Leslie's more progressive, egalitarian ideas - but they remain devoted to each other.
  • Hidden Depths: For a somewhat lazy farm hand, Jett proves himself to be an excellent builder, and is able to recognise that he needs to improve his education by taking a correspondence course. When he strikes oil he ably manages to build himself a well and manage it until it becomes a success.
  • Honorary Uncle: Uncle Bawley to the entire Benedict family, but Leslie and Luz II in particular.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: Subverted. Judy is parked with her husband-to-be, Bob Dace, and turns off a news report about Pearl Harbor, but the report is just a summary of the damage that had been inflicted two weeks earlier (the scene is set on Christmas Eve, 1941) - and she notes that she is about to lose him for the war's duration.
  • It's All My Fault: Bick blames himself for Luz's death, since he was the one who bought War Winds and brought him back to Reata.
  • Kick the Dog: Luz uses spurs on Leslie's horse, War Winds. It doesn't end well...
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Bick steadfastly refuses to allow Jett to drill for oil on Reata. When World War II begins, however, he realizes he has to swallow his pride for the sake of the war effort.
  • Lad-ette: Bick's sister Luz, and later his daughter Luz II. Luz was a lot more butch and a bully to the servants, her niece was more of a boy-crazy and sarcastic Tomboy with a Girly Streak.
  • Legacy Vessel Naming: The Benedicts' private plane is named "Benedict Reata", the same as the private rail car he brought Leslie home in.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Bick has been a rancher all his life, and at one point tells Leslie he could ride a horse before he could walk. He initially dotes on Jordy (while ignoring his twin sister Judy), expecting that he will follow in his footsteps... but the little lad spends his first horse ride wailing with terror, even when Bick gets in the saddle with him. Jordy never warms to the idea of horse riding or ranching, having inherited his mother's intellectual nature, and he becomes a doctor instead.
  • Lonely at the Top: For all his wealth and success, Jett Rink remains an isolated figure.
  • Love at First Sight:
    • As Dr. Lynnton drives Bick to his house in Maryland at the beginning of the film, Leslie rides across the road in front of them on War Winds' back. One glance into each other's eyes, and they're both completely smitten, to the point that Leslie breaks off her existing engagement, marries Bick, and returns to Texas with him just days later.
    • Dr. Guerra introduces Jordy to Juana, a new addition to the medical staff at Vientecito. When Jordy goes to shake her hand, there is a spark of static electricity between them; Dr. Guerra knowingly says that it might not just be dry air or thick carpets causing such a spark, and from the looks Jordy and Juana are giving each other within seconds, he's probably right.
  • May–December Romance: Luz II is May and Jett Rink is December.
  • Mercy Kill: Luz' ill-fated ride on War Winds doesn't just have fatal consequences for her; the stallion is also gravely injured, and Bick decides to shoot him to put him out of his misery.
  • My Own Private "I Do":
    • Judy and Bob Dace are already engaged when the bombing of Pearl Harbor leads to Bob getting drafted; they have a quick wedding before he is due to report for basic training.
    • Jordy and Juana get married in secret at a Mexican-American chapel, as Jordy knows that Bick would never approve of their marriage.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Upon returning to Texas with Bick, Leslie further ruffles his feathers by being very polite to his Mexican domestic staff when Bick and his sister Luz treat them like dirt.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Jett, a self-made man who got rich off of oil and owns and runs an airport and hotel, ends up a bitter drunk who rants about how he didn't snare Leslie away from Bick and how he worked as a "flunky" for the Benedicts while a waitstaff stands by waiting to clean up the reception hall.
  • Noble Bigot: Pretty much everyone but Leslie at the start of the film; her suggestion that Stephen Austin and the "Old Three Hundred" families effectively "stole" Texas from Mexico enrages Bick and sets the tone for their different attitudes toward the Mexican vaqueros and their families at Reata. It takes a long time for Bick to shed his casual racism even after his son's marriage.
  • One-Word Title: Giant, which could refer to both the vast open Texas plains, the cattle ranchers who live there, or the novel's length.
  • Only Sane Man: Uncle Bawley. Not only does he agree that Bick not allowing drilling on his property is a losing business proposition, he also reinforces Leslie's parenting noting that Bick's father wasn't a very good father either.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Plenty to choose from at the hotel opening scene.
  • Pretty in Mink: A number of furs are worn, including one rich lady sporting a huge white fox wrap.
  • Redhead In Green: Vashti, a friend of Leslie and Bick, is a redhead and sports a very gaudy silk green gown later in the film.
  • Rejecting the Inheritance: None of Bick's kids want to take over the ranch. Jordy chooses to become a doctor, Judy and her husband Bob decide to start a much smaller ranch of their own, and Luz decides to try her luck as an actress in Hollywood.
  • Replacement Goldfish: It's implied in the film that Jett saw Luz II as this for her mother Leslie - he had pictures of the latter pasted on his wall, and despite his perceived proposal to Luz II, she later overhears him ranting about how Leslie is the kind of beautiful woman any man wants and lamenting that she is with Bick and not him, which is enough to taint her love for him and make her leave.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Jett keeps his scrawny piece of Reata to annoy Jordan that a small piece belongs to him. When it turns out to be sitting of millions of dollars worth of oil, Jett manages to really get under Jordan's skin.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: Sir David Karfrey, Leslie's British diplomat fiance, doesn't have any obvious character flaws, but Leslie is so smitten by Bick that, within a day of meeting him, she breaks off her engagement to Sir David and marries Bick. Sir David's romantic arc still ends happily, as Leslie's sister Lacey has been nursing a crush on him and snaps him up before Leslie has even boarded the train back to Texas (although their wedding happens several years later).
  • Scenery Porn: The film begins with wide sweeping shots of the green Maryland countryside which then contrasts with the beautiful desolation of Texas.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Jett Rink refuses to sell the land Luz left him back to Bick for twice its value, though it isn't explained why. Later on, this is Bick's reasoning for not allowing oil to be drilled at Reata, but it's a Broken Aesop as they end up getting rich off oil during World War II.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
    • The first thing Jett does after he strikes oil? Drive his truck all over the nicely manicured lawn at Reata up to the front porch to share the news, make a pass at Leslie, and return Bick's punch with three of his own.
    • It's also implied that Bick could have exercised this up till that moment.
      Uncle Bawley: Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he's too rich to kill.
    • Jett rear-ends a parked car while driving to a nightclub - and punches out the driver.
    • Bick tries this with the racist diner owner after he refuses to serve them, to no avail.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Bick is the Manly Man Rancher and Good Ol' Boy to Sensitive Men represented by his son Jordy and son-in-law Bob Dace. Jordy decides to become a doctor and he is much more soft-spoken than his father and while Bob wants to be a rancher, he is a lot more nervous around Bick and ends up letting Judy do most of the negotiating with Bick.
  • Settle for Sibling: As the film opens, Leslie is engaged to British diplomat Sir David Karfrey, but she breaks it off to marry Bick. He isn't single for long, as Leslie's sister Lacy has a serious crush on him and wastes no time making her move; they are married several years later.
  • Shoot the Dog: After War Winds bucks Luz out of his saddle (fatally injuring her in the process) and makes his way back to the house, he is limping in a way that makes it clear he is also seriously injured. When Leslie returns from having taken Dr. Walker to look at the feverish Angel Obregon II, Bick confirms that he shot War Winds while she was gone, and that he felt it was only right that he be the one to do it.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Leslie. She is a gracious, well-read Southern Belle who endears herself to the servants and neighbors; she is also very outspoken and stands up for her Mexican-American neighbors and against the patriarchal attitudes of the men around her.
  • Sleeping Single: Strangely, Bick and Leslie are shown sleeping in separate beds by the time their children are teenagers, despite being Happily Married and sharing a bed at first (although there are no shots of both of them in bed at the same time, which was still too racy for 1956). Luz was at first going to put Bick and Leslie in rooms on the opposite sides of the house until Bick insisted on connecting bedrooms.
  • Socialite: Leslie is an East Coast Southern variant of this trope; however, she is a lot savvier intellectually and politically than most examples of the trope, and she isn't elitist.
  • Southern Belle: Leslie is an East Coast variant. She is beautiful, stylish, ladylike, and gracious, but she deviates from the classic example of the trope by viewing people of color as her equals and being very intellectual.
  • Stalker Shrine: Jett has a photo of Leslie in his cabin at Little Reata.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jett Rink could be considered one of these towards Leslie. He later dates her daughter Luz.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Leslie calls Bick out on this when he patronizingly tells her that women shouldn't talk about business or politics, saying that he knew she had a mind of her own when they married.
  • Team Dad
  • Team Mom: Leslie wants the kids to be whatever they want, although she bristles at the idea of Judy studying animal husbandry at Texas Tech instead of going to finishing school in Switzerland.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Becoming rich from oil turns Jett into a bitter, aggressive drunk.
  • Tranquil Fury: Leslie to the landlord of the small village where most Mexican-Americans live, after witnessing the neglect and poverty they live in, as she brings Dr. Guerra to start working and inspect the village. She says a few words in her gracious and pissed off Southern Belle accent:
    Leslie: This place is a scandal.
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: A model of Jett's airport and hotel is on display in a reception at the grand opening.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Luz vs. Leslie. In this case it's where the girly girl character is the more likable and heroic character and the protagonist of the film. Luz clomps around in her spurs and long skirt, acting more masculine than the men around her and bullies the servants while Leslie speaks graciously to the servants and takes initiative in her community.
  • The Unfavorite: At the twins' fourth birthday party, Bick makes a point of mentioning that it is his son's birthday...totally ignoring Judy. His attitude reverses by the children's late adolescence; he bristles at the idea of Jordy studying medicine at Harvard and Columbia (which Leslie supports), but actively encourages Judy's plans to study animal husbandry at Texas Tech (which Leslie resists).
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Bick and Leslie's first children are twins, Jordy and Judy.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The scene immediately after Jett punches out the driver of a parked car he hits? A newspaper headline about him dedicating a new hospital.
  • Wham Shot: Jett watches as Leslie leaves a footprint in the mud...and oil seeps out.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Leslie about Luz II dating Jett Rink. He is much older than Luz (about the same age as her parents or slightly younger) and she finds her daughter too intelligent to be persuaded by him.
  • Your Money Is No Good Here: Said to the Latino family by the racist diner owner at the end of the film.