East of Eden
At the Brattle
"East of Eden" is a fine movie with which to begin the post-vacation term. Presumably the viewer has been softened-up with enough adult westerns and 21-inch-screen emotions to welcome Julie Harris, Burle Ives, Raymond Massey and even Jimmy Dean. Besides, it's all in technicolor and wide-screen, which is quite a treat at the Brattle.
And "East of Eden" reminds you enough of adult westerns to make the transition easy. Its characters are the simple "morality play" characters of the Western put in situations where good and evil are hard to define, and only love wins out in the end.
The "Cain and Abel" theme of Steinbeck's novel does not become vivid until the very end of the movie. Rather the story suggests Tom Jones or Huckleberry Finn.Caleb Trask, (Jimmy Dean) is really a good guy at heart, but there is no one around to tell him he is "no good" because his father has rejected him. His pranks are worthy of a Tom Sawyer--but the complication lies in the fact that his brother Aaron is not a prig or toady, but a good guy too. To further complicate the situation, Alma (Julie Harris), the "Becky Sharp" of the story is Aaron's girl.
Adam Trask raises lettuce, reads the Bible to both sons, and seeks after righteousness for its own sake. But his wife left him shortly after the boys were born, and he chose to tell them she was dead. When Cal finds out it is his mother who "runs the best house on the coast" in Monterery, he is certain he was doomed to be no good from birth.
Jimmy Dean plays the sensitive rebel role to its hilt, even managing fairly deftly the lines he has to mumble. Perhaps his toughest scene comes when Cal sees his father spurn his own birthday gift of $5000 and rejoice over his brother's "gift" of his engagement to Alma. A scene which could have been easily overplayed, it becomes an emotionally powerful piece of acting in a movie full of tortured glances and "sensitive" scenes.
Next to Jimmy Dean, Julie Harris's role is most demanding, and she carries it off with all her girlish charm. She romps with Aaron, comforts Cal, and appears as the most genuinely loveable character in the wagonload of "good" characters in "East of Eden."
Once away from the Trasks and Alma, however, the "East of Eden" world is one of two-dimensional people and scenes. Actually, there is less use of folksy humor and other side show effects than there might have been. Elia Kazan's handling of the anti-German feeling during World I seemed very fine indeed, and the movie is worth seeing just to watch its town parade of victory girls, the Kaiser in a noose, and Important Citizens.
It's Americana, Hollywood style, but well worth seeing.