Skip to Content



U.S., 1955
Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck
Approx. 117 min. DCP.

In California’s Salinas Valley, as World War I looms, two sons, one good and one bad, battle each other for the love of their father Raymond Massey — of course the bad one’s James Dean, in his electrifying debut, and the only one of his three legendary hits released before his death. Kazan’s adaptation of just the last 80 pages of John Steinbeck’s lengthy novel was in a way a metaphorically autobiographical portrait of himself at Dean’s age; the father trouble that both Kazan and Dean had in real life was fomented on the set: Massey couldn’t stand Dean, the resulting tension contributing to the “misunderstood kid” image that turned Dean into an international icon. On a different plane was Dean’s relationship with Julie Harris as the gentle Abra; her sympathy and understanding both on and off-screen was what kept Dean going throughout the picture. This was Kazan’s first film in Scope and color, both of which he used with experimental mastery.


“Feverishly poetic…Dean seems to go just about as far as anybody can in acting misunderstood.”
– Pauline Kael

“Elia Kazan's sun-blissed adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic work on the business of brotherhood suggests at its outset a full-blooded melodrama replete with sturm, drang and clutched fists cursing the skies. The reality is something more poised and low-key which sublimates big plotting in favour of delivering a small coterie of finely textured and complex characters.”
– David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Film Forum