EAST OF EDEN (Elia Kazan, 1955)
Sixth Ave. between 40th & 42nd Sts.
Monday, June 27, free, sunset
Festival continues Mondays through August 22
“I guess there’s just a certain amount of good and bad you get from your parents and I just got the bad,” Cal (James Dean) says in Elia Kazan’s cinematic adaptation of part of John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, East of Eden, a modern retelling of the biblical Cain and Abel story. In his first starring role, Dean received a posthumous Oscar nomination for his moody, angst-ridden performance as Cal Trask, a troubled young man who discovers that the mother (Best Supporting Actress winner Jo Van Fleet) he thought was dead is actually alive and well and running a successful house of prostitution nearby. Cal tries to win his father’s (Raymond Massey as Adam Trask) love and acceptance any way he can, including helping him develop his grand plan to transport lettuce from their farm via refrigerated railway cars, but his father seems to always favor his other son, Aron (Richard Davalos). Aron, meanwhile, is in love with Abra (Julie Harris), a sweet young woman who takes a serious interest in Cal and desperately wants him to succeed. But the well-meaning though misunderstood Cal does things his own way, which gets him in trouble with his father and brother, the mother who wants nothing to do with him, the sheriff (Burl Ives), and just about everyone else he comes in contact with. Set in Monterey and Salinas, East of Eden begins with a grand overture by Leonard Rosenman, announcing the film is going to be a major undertaking, and it lives up to its billing. Dean is masterful as Cal, peppering Paul Osborn’s script with powerful improvisational moments as he expresses his frustration with his family and life in general. His inner turmoil threatens to explode in both word and gesture as he just seeks to be loved. Dean would follow up East of Eden with seminal roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant before his death in a car crash in 1955 at the age of twenty-four, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that has influenced generations of actors ever since. East of Eden is screening June 27 at the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, which continues Monday nights through August 22 with such other classic flicks as Preston Sturges’s The Palm Beach Story, Richard Donner’s The Omen, and Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.