East of Eden, with James Dean, from 1955. It holds up, although I probably like it just a bit less this time around than when I saw it in the seventies. Excellent photography, both in composition and lighting, and I'd say Kazan was a natural with the wide screen. Excellent acting by both Dean and Julie Harris. Also the actress who plays the wayward mother. Not to mention the script. The scene where Dean's Caleb goes to ask the mother for seed money —literally—is very well written and played, although the mother goes a little over the top in her still-fresh anger at her ex-husband in re things that happened twenty-odd years before. Caleb's vulnerability, his overwhelming wish for his father's approval—without it, EOE would be a completely different story, but I think it's overplayed. I prefer the Cal of the first half or three quarters of the film, the guy with a certain toughness to him, to the guy at the end.
Not sure whether I'd want to read the book. Maybe. I'm not that big on Steinbeck but I did get through Grapes of Wrath and maybe Cannery Row.
The parallels to Cain and Abel are there to be seen if you know that story; the sheriff's explicit allusions to it near the end are unnecessary. Maybe in a way that's on Steinbeck, not the subtlest of authors. But
if he's the who laid the Biblical stuff on too thick in the beginning—so to speak—Kazan and Paul Osborne, the screenwriter, still could and should have toned it down. It is interesting that this version of the story is sympathetic to the Cain character and told from his point of view. I was thinking there was a bit of Jim Stark, from Rebel Without a Cause, in Dean's Caleb, but given the chronology of the films I guess it's more the other way around.
White America was starting to fear its own young in the fifties. In Dean's Caleb Trask/Jim Stark persona, as in Brando's “wild” biker and Terry Malloy, there lived a notion that the disaffected and rowdy young were more misunderstood than actually dangerous. Toward and just after the turn of the seventies, some of us were inclined to suppose, and declare, that we really were dangerous to the prevailing order. Would that it had been so.
My post above got mangled, somehow, either in the cut-and-paste stage from my own document, or by unknown hands. I've fixed it.