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James Dean, who was killed in a sports-car crash two weeks after his last scene in Giant was shot, in this film clearly shows for the first (and fatefully the last) time what his admirers always said he had: a streak of genius. He has caught the Texas accent to nasal perfection, and has mastered the lock-hipped, high-heeled stagger of the wrangler, and the wry little jerks and smirks, tics and twitches, grunts and giggles that make up most of the language of a man who talks to himself a good deal more than he does to anyone else. In one scene, indeed, in a long, drunken mumble with Actress Carroll Baker in an empty cocktail lounge, the actor is able to press an amazing variety of subtleties into the mood of the moment, to achieve what is certainly the finest piece of atmospheric acting seen on screen since Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger did their "brother scene" in On the Waterfront.
Yet, despite the blazing up of this lost light, the picture belongs to the director. Scene after scene—a cultivated dinner party, a brawl in a diner, a quarrel between a conventional father and a freethinking son—is worked over with a care for the meanings beneath the meanings on the surface: something that Hollywood almost never takes the time for.
And most of the hidden meanings, as they come shining darkly through, add an undertone of intense irony to the picture, and color its mood with something like ferocity as the climax comes on—a climax in which a horde of guzzling millionaires are summoned to their supper by a cattle call. The director's passionate disgust—not for Texas, but for all that Texas signifies in this picture—comes to a burning point in the film's final frames; they constitute what is probably the most effective declaration against racial intolerance ever shown on the screen.
Producer-Director George Cooper Stevens, 51, is a meaty, mild-mannered man who believes in making entertaining movies (A Place in the Sun, Shane) that shine with a high technical polish and say something about the human condition. In his dedication to that creed, Stevens is willing to spend more time than his shooting schedule allows, more money than his budget permits. A perfectionist, he shoots every scene from a multitude of angles, goes to the cutting room with masses of exposed film, spends months editing and assembling the finished product, insists that 25% of the creative process of moviemaking take place in the cutting room.