Cal Trask, the ‘bad’ son of a California farmer, embarks on a business endeavour to prove his worthiness to his father. Tensions abound when he must deal with his estranged mother and begins to fall for the ‘good’ brothers girlfriend.
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In an era of overacting and Hollywoodesque exaggeration, Kazan's mastery at building chemistry between his stars stands out even more. The relationship between Dean and his mother felt awkward to me at times, but besides that I believed every character.
This modern re-telling of Cain And Abel with a twist,is perhaps Deans finest performance.He plays Cal/Cain,who desires nothing but his fathers love.However,its his brother Aron/Abel who is the apple of his fathers eye.Abra (Harris) creates a further jealousy between the two brothers,which ultimately switches Cal and Arons roles as bad son/good son around.Elia Kazan brilliantly directs this Cinemascope melodrama.
Oh Julie Harris...forever to be neglected, on screen at least. Her performances in this film, "The Haunting," "Reflections In A Golden Eye," I Am a Camera" and, above all, "A Member of the Wedding" should have vouchsafed her a special place. She belongs with the lyrical and poetic Vanessa Redgrave and (the also neglected) Blythe Danner...and, maybe, Lillian Gish.
Irrespective of it being a good or a bad adaptation, East of Eden is a masterpiece in that Kazan's sense of composition is superb. (There can only be true artistic value to a film if there is a sense of mise-en-scène, i.e. aesthetics.) Further, it is not about James Dean being a gifted actor it is about him being an element of the aesthetics of the composition. He is blessed with the potentiality of mythical status.