East of Eden
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours
East of Eden (1955) is one of those films that are famous only for who is in it and who originally wrote it. If this wasn’t one of the few roles James Dean had before his unfortunate death, I’m not sure I’d have watched it. Even if it’s based on a Steinbeck book, I think I’d prefer The Grapes of Wrath (1940) or Of Mice and Men (1939) to this. Still, there is some artistic merit to this film, even if it didn’t cover the entirety of the source material. It just goes to show how a movie can have staying power just from the people tied to it.
Notably, I did enjoy pieces of the cinematography in East of Eden. In particular, when James Dean’s character is on the porch swing, that scene was shot in such a way that I haven’t seen done before or since. And while Dean’s performance certainly starts whiny and annoying, it was enjoyable to see him pull out his acting chops by the end of the film, even if they weren’t used for long. It’s still not his best performance over his short career, but it’s still worth mentioning nonetheless.
As for the plot, nothing stands out to me other than its “love triangle” aspect. It was really the only interpersonal conflict present in the film, with the other critical elements merely being the characters’ poor decisions—and the consequences of them. A lot of the plot seemed like drama for drama’s sake, and I felt it didn’t have anything substantial to say like some of Steinbeck’s other works. Perhaps this was due to the book being cut down significantly to fit in the movie, but it just felt like half of the story wasn’t even there.
An OK film with one of the few James Dean performances in it, I give East of Eden 3.5 stars out of 5.