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George Stevens Movies: 'Giant,' 'Shane' & 'Annie Oakley'

James Dean Giant
Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin Shane
James Dean Giant (top); Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin Shane (bottom)

George Stevens will be the star attraction of Turner Classic Movies' Monday evenings in April.

The series begins tonight at 5 p.m. PDT with a showing of Giant (1956), one of Stevens' best-known films. Some find this tale of oil, ranching, and greed bloated; I found it highly enjoyable despite – or perhaps because of – its soap opera elements. Also, Giant deals directly with both racism, miscegenation, and xenophobia in a manner that wasn't all that common in those days.

Good performances abound: Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dennis Hopper, Carroll Baker. Oscar-nominated Mercedes McCambridge does some scenery-chewing, but she's a master of subtlety when compared to James Dean, the one weak element in the film, especially as an older man.

Shane (1953) is perhaps my favorite Western. It's both elegiac and revisionist, but despite its contradictions and some heavy-handed melodrama here and there, I think it works remarkably well. I certainly find it eons better than Clint Eastwood's own elegiac/revisionist effort Unforgiven.

Granite-faced, laconic Alan Ladd is perfect as the granite-faced, laconic antihero, and so are Brandon De Wilde as the little boy who idolizes the mysterious stranger and Jack Palance as the black-clad villain. The guy is so scary even dogs go in hiding when he's around.

Jean Arthur does what she can in an underwritten role as the woman torn between dull husband (Van Heflin) and sexy stranger, and that's good enough for me. Shane also boasts great cinematography (Loyal Griggs) and music (Victor Young).

Annie Oakley is a near-programmer, one of those medium-budgeted star vehicles studios cranked out in the '20s, '30s, and '40s to keep patrons and theaters owners happy. Not the greatest Western ever made, but Barbara Stanwyck is always watchable, and so are Preston Foster and Melvyn Douglas.

Directed by George Stevens Jr, George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey provides a sympathetic – and fascinating – look at Steven's career. Among those discussing the late director are Katharine Hepburn, Joel McCrea, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Max von Sydow, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Warren Beatty, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Frank Capra. Check it out.

Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm Giant (1956)
A Texas ranching family fights to survive changing times.
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker Dir: George Stevens C-201 min, TV-PG [Letterbox]

8:30pm [Documentary] George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Biography of the Academy Award winning director including dramatic color footage of WWII.
Cast: Jean Arthur, Fred Astaire, Montgomery Clift, Brandon deWilde Dir: George Stevens Jr. Black and white. 112 mins

10:30pm [Western] Shane (1953)
A mysterious drifter helps farmers fight off a vicious gunman.
Cast: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon de Wilde Dir: George Stevens C-118 mins

12:45am [Western] Annie Oakley (1935)
The famed female sharpshooter learns that you can't get a man with a gun when she falls for a rival marksman.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Melvyn Douglas, Moroni Olsen Dir: George Stevens BW-90 mins

Photos: Shane (Paramount); Giant (Warner Bros.)

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