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Friday, August 17 Living

Hearst screening celebrates new book about ‘Giant’

The 1956 movie “Giant” and a new book about the making of the Elizabeth Taylor-Rock Hudson-James Dean classic were both celebrated at a recent screening at the Bethel Cinema attended by our Movie & A Martini film club.

“What a coincidence,” Byrd’s Books owner Alice Hutchinson said of Texas historian Don Graham’s book being published a week before the special showing. Hutchinson had a pile of the books for sale during the pre-movie reception and the intermission at the halfway mark of the 3-hour-and-20-minute epic.

“Giant” drew a crowd of about 40 movie buffs, including a woman who said she had never heard of the movie before. She arrived intending to see something else and changed her mind when she noticed the poster for the one-night-only event. “I’m so glad I did. It was great,” she said on her way out of the theater.

Subtitled “Edna Ferber, James Dean, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and the Making of a Legendary American Film,” the Graham book covers the production of the movie in detail, but in a well-written, novelistic style that makes it a pleasure to read. Graham gives smart mini-biographies of the key players. The sections on Hudson and Dean are particularly sharp in the way they contrast the two stars’ very different approach to their closeted gay lives. Hudson was much more clandestine than the free-wheeling Dean.

Audience members at the screening were surprised to learn Taylor and Hudson were only cast in the film after director George Stevens’ first choices — Audrey Hepburn and William Holden — were unavailable. His second choice for the Taylor part — Grace Kelly — was unable to do the movie when her studio, MGM, refused to loan her out to Warner Bros. Dean only landed his co-starring role after Alan Ladd (who had just made “Shane” with Stevens) rejected what he saw as a supporting role.

“It was really ahead of its time,” another patron said during the post-screening discussion. “The treatment of racism must have been shocking (in 1956).”

Years before the Civil Rights Act was passed, “Giant” shows the discrimination against Mexican-Americans in Texas during the pre- and post-World War II era. One of the major sources of conflict between the Texas ranch owner played by Hudson and his new bride from Maryland played by Taylor is her shock at how her husband relates to his Mexican ranch hands and house staff (he and his friends freely use racial slurs).

The movie shows the Hudson character’s evolution over 25 years into a much more liberal man due to his wife’s influence. He eventually accepts his son’s marriage to a Mexican woman and defends her when a cafe owner tries to refuse her service.

Several audience members were surprised and pleased by the pre-feminist nature of Taylor’s character who refuses to knuckle under to her husband’s attempt to change her politics.

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The next Movie & A Martini event will be on Tuesday, May 22, at the Avon, 272 Bedford St., Stamford, to see “Pierrot le Fou.”

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @joesview

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