In 1956, Rock Hudson made three movies, one of which was Giant with costars Elizabeth Taylor and, the by-now iconic, James Dean, an actor we’ve written about extensively.
Who was the better actor in director George Stevens’ sweeping western saga based on Edna Ferber’s novel about life on a Texas cattle ranch? Was it Hudson as rancher Jordan ‘Bick’ Benedict Jr. or Dean as the rebellious Jett Rink?
In our previous blogs about Dean — see Jan. 29, 2013’s Debating (And We Really Mean Debating) JAMES DEAN — again;  James Dean — Really A Good Actor?, Sept. 22, 2011; and the following Oct. 12’s Readers Sound Off — About James Dean and MGM — we’ve expressed skepticism about the actor’s much-vaunted acting skills.
The pictures that made Dean were three:  director Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause with Natalie Wood (both in 1955) and Stevens’ Giant, released after the actor’s death. 

For our money, Rock Hudson walked off with Giant, handily out performing Dean. Taking a hard nosed look at Eden and Rebel today prompts the notion that dying early might have been a terrific career move.

Disagreeing with us is first-time email contributor, Belmondo, who in responding to our 2013 blog, eloquently pleads this case:

Most artists who achieve an almost profound level of success are left wide open to be dissected.

Dean’s “legend” has very little to do with his talent and artistry. He became a poster boy for teenage rebellion and Hollywood cool. Most of his so-called fans have probably never seen his films.

Still, opinion is opinion. James Dean was not and is not everyone’s cup of tea. The legend and hype may be too much to live up to in many viewers eyes. But…to say that Rock Hudson walks away with ‘Giant,’ I have to question your sanity, let alone your criteria on acceptable film acting.

I’ll agree, Dean’s performance in ‘East of Eden’ is a bit over indulgent. But it has been well documented that Kazan pushed Dean to that level, allowing him to run rampant.

‘Rebel Without A Cause,’ as a film, is hopelessly dated, but his performance is solid. Yet these films just re-enforce the “misunderstood youth” tag that still is attached to him.

Which makes his performance in ‘Giant’ so relevant. Not only is it an adult role, he doesn’t have that much screen time. He dominates the movie.

Hudson is a stiff, a good looking mannequin with a manufactured voice. He was part of the old system that busts (sic) looks foolish next to Dean’s textured, layered characterization. Hudson came into his own with the Doris Day comedies of the 60’s, but here he’s left in the dirt.

The scene after Dean’s character strikes oil, he comes to flaunt his new-found wealth to Hudson’s character (whom he loathed). The sense of danger and menace is palpable, and Hudson can only watch with confusion and clenched teeth.

Look no further than this scene to determine why Dean the actor was so damn good and why Rock Hudson, sadly, was not.

Thanks, much, Belmondo.  It’s e-mails like yours that make us love hearing from readers. But, alas, we disagree.  George Stevens was able to draw from Rock the best performance he had ever given, writes the actor’s biographer Sara Davidson.  Amen.

By the way, Hudson did not like Dean personally.  He was a little guy and he thought little, Hudson is quoted as saying. On time and always prepared, he regarded Dean as “unprofessional.”

 

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