East of Eden(released March/55)was a film by director Elia Kazan based on John Steinbecks /52 novel of the same name.Warners issued the film on this two disc edition in a mastered print from the original film elements with a plethora of extras.The only way to go.
The story finds us in the west coast California communities of Salinas and Monterey in the U.S. pre-war period of 1917.Adam Trask(Raymond Massey)is a gentleman farmer who has two sons,Aron(Richard Davalos) and Cal(James Dean).Adam has showered most of his affections on Aron,which has left Cal very frustrated and bitter towards his dad;longing desperately for the love he has never had.As a result Cal has become shy,defensive and acts out without warning.His father has raised the two boys alone,as he and his wife split many years before,her whereabouts unknown.
Adam grows lettuce and has come up with an idea for refrigerating the product during its long trek by train,so as to keep it fresher until it reaches the markets.He has thrown his entire life savings into the project.In the meantime Cal,who comes and goes at will,has been taking repeated long train rides to Monterey,15 miles away.While there he has been following a certain woman who runs the areas biggest brothel.After one attempt in particular gets him tossed out bodily,he returns and is finally able to walk along the road with her side by side.All he has wanted is to talk with her and when he finally gets his chance he finds out what he has been looking for.The woman is the boys long lost mother.
Back on the farm Adam is preparing his first major crop for shipment.Because of his new found satisfaction regarding his mothers discovery,Cal,who has been AWOL throughout most of the farming,now throws all his ingenuity into things and comes up with ideas to speed things up.This earns the approval of his father which he has longed for.The day arrives and the crop is packed with ice and shipped out on the train.However a snow landslide in the mountains about 100 miles out causes the train to eventually return to Salinas,its' precious cargo spoiling as the ice melts.Adam is financially broke.
Cal is bound and determined to get his fathers money back for him and wants to raise a major bean crop,but he has no money for such a project.Bean prices are set to soar as the U.S. is on the verge of entering(and eventually will)W.W.1,so there is no better time to start.Cal returns to Monterrey and asks his mother for $5,000.With that money he enters into a partnership with the same man who helped his father with the lettuce crop.Together they plant,harvest and Cal is able to raise his fathers money back;all without his fathers knowledge.
Meanwhile Aron's girlfriend Abra(Julie Harris),who was devoted to him at the start,has now by happenstance been spending more time with Cal.It turns out both she and Cal have more in common with each than was originally thought.Aron's domineering personality(like his father),has worn on Abra to the extent that she is no longer in love with him but has fallen for Cal.Cal and Abra on Adams birthday,decorate the house and surprise him.Cal wants the occasion just right and he presents his father with the grand surprise;the money his father lost with the lettuce scheme.Cal explains how he raised the money but his father,who works on the local draft board,feels it is making profit off the young men who are now going to war.He tells Cal to return the money from whence it came.This breaks Cal's heart who runs outside.Aron follows and berates Cal for his long standing behaviour.In a fit of revenge he takes Aron to Monterey and introduces a shocked Aron to his mother,who,as usual at night,is in her cups.
Cal returns to Salinas,as does a very drunk Aron who joins up to serve overseas.His father runs to the train station to try and talk him out of it.Aron,on seeing his father,laughingly puts his head through the glass window,as the train pulls out.His father has a debilitating stroke right on the spot and is bedridden.With Aron gone there is no one left to look after his father but Cal.
A nurse is called in by the doctor to care for Adam but she is cold and selfish.Abra has a heart to heart with Adam beseeching him to ask for Cals help,as it will show him Adam needs/loves him.Abra then asks Cal to reconcile with his father,whose prognosis,long term,is not good.Reluctantly Cal goes to his father,apologizing for his behaviour and asking him if there is anything he can do for him.His father,using all the strength he can muster,tells Cal to get rid of the nurse who he can't stand.Cal can't abide the nurse either,and the film ends as Cal pulls up a chair near his fathers bed,content that his father finally needs him and cares for him.
This film sports a host of powerful performances.Jo Van fleet who played Cal's mother got the best supporting nod from the Academy for her performance.Raymond Massey is spot on as the stiff,feelings-close-to-the-chest father,Julie Harris is great as Arons girl,and eventually Cals, and of course Dean pulls in a solid performance as the second fiddle playing brother Cal,full of resentment and angst.Kudos also go to Burl Ives as the town sheriff in his small but good supporting role.If there is a weak spot in it,it is Davalos as Aron,who can't quite keep up with Dean in the acting department,in his role as the number one son.
Technically,the film print has been struck using the original film and sound elements,som it looks and sounds great.Extras include:commentary by film historian Richard Schickel,a 50th anniversary documentary on Dean,the documentary Forever James Dean,Screen Tests,deleted scenes,wardrobe,costume and production design film tests,the trailer and footage from the March/55 premiere of the film.The premiere is hosted by NY DJ Martin Block whose bigband broadcasts of the 40s are now legendary.And watch for a very dour looking John Steinbeck,trying to act the "I'm a great author and you aren't"thing.The film is in its original a/r in cinemascope.
All in all this is a highly recommended film for not only Dean fans but for all students of the cinema.The drama may appear to some as kind of melodramatic in this day and age,but make no mistake,these are solid performance almost to a man here.Dean's acting style stands out as so different that he steals every scene he's in.A must have,and it's done up right!