Cutting “Giant” Down to Size

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

The 1956 motion picture Giant was exactly that.  Three hours and 17 minutes long.  Directed by George Stevens.  Filled with stars: Elizabeth Taylor. Rock Hudson. James Dean (in his last film). Sal Mineo. Dennis Hopper. Carroll Baker. Jane Withers. Chill Wills. Mercedes McCambridge. Rod Taylor.  Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.  “Giant” received 10 Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Director.

poster w/Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean shown standing in 3 columns with GIANT written below imposed over a sunset
US Theatrical Release Poster for Giant (1956)

The epic story covers a long period of time.  It begins in the 1920s when a Texas cattle baron visits Maryland to buy horses but ends up meeting and marrying a local blue-blood.  He takes her back to Texas where the story unfolds over the next several decades.  The movie ends with their grown children and young grandchildren moving on with their lives.  In between, the story raises many issues which are still relevant today:

●the development of the oil industry in Texas.  We see oil come to Texas, displacing traditional ranching endeavors.

●the place of women in society.  The lead female character rebels against the male-centered social order, refusing to defer to her husband and expressing her own opinions.

●racism and social segregation.  The discrimination inflicted upon Mexican Americans is vividly portrayed.

Given the nature of the story, not all elements of the story were acceptable outside the United States.  One country where that was especially true was Mexico, as the following despatch from the U.S. embassy in Mexico shows.

informs that the Mexican govt motion picture office would allow Giant to be shown if all scenes that would offend Mexicans, or shows racial discrimination could be deleted
Despatch from American Embassy, Mexico to Dept of State, July 18, 1957 (NAID 302021)

There is a typo in the despatch.  The running time of Giant was 3 hours and 18  minutes which meant cutting it down to 1 hour and 30 minutes was even more draconian than the report makes it seem. 

It is not clear from the records whether Giant was shown in Mexico at the time.

Giant won accolades from critics and was a box-office success.  In recognition of its importance, in 2005, the Library of Congress added Giant to the National Film Registry.  Under the provisions of the National Film Preservation Act, the Library annually adds 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” motion pictures to that list.

Source: U.S. Embassy Mexico to Department of State, Despatch No. 84, July 18, 1957, file 811.452/7-1857, 1955-59 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

One thought on “Cutting “Giant” Down to Size

  1. Well, we all know that movies are a mirror of the society and it is really painful that the old customs and especially the bad ones are still prevalent. Racism and women empowerment are still the most debating issues and so is the hunger of profit-making by the corrupt politicians and businessmen. I totally agree with every argument presented in this post.
    God know when this all will stop and world will become a safer and better place to live for everyone.

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