East of Eden

East of Eden Information

East of Eden is a 1955 film, directed by Elia Kazan, and loosely based on the second half of the 1952 novel of the same name by John Steinbeck. It is about a wayward young man who, while seeking his own identity, vies for the affection of his deeply religious father against his favored brother, thus retelling the story of Cain and Abel.

The film stars Julie Harris, James Dean (in his first major screen role), and Raymond Massey. It also features Burl Ives, Richard Davalos and Jo Van Fleet, and was adapted by Paul Osborn.

Although set in early twentieth century Monterey, California, much of the film was actually shot on location in Mendocino, California. Some scenes were filmed in the Salinas Valley.

Of the three films in which James Dean played the male lead, this is the only one to have been released during his lifetime and the only one which Dean personally viewed in its entirety.

In 1995 Nonesuch Records issued an album of music from both "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" - both written by Leonard Rosenman - played by the London Sinfonietta conducted by John Adams.


The story is set in 1917 and 1918, before and during American involvement in World War I, in the central California coastal towns of Monterey and Salinas. Cal (James Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos) are the sons of a modestly successful farmer and wartime draft board chairman named Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Cal is moody and embittered by his belief that his father favors Aron. Although both Cal and Aron had long been led to believe that their mother had died "and gone to heaven", the opening scene reveals that Cal has apparently learned that his mother is still alive, owning and running a successful brothel in nearby Monterey.

After the father's idealistic plans for a long-haul vegetable shipping business venture end in a loss of thousands of dollars, Cal decides to enter the bean-growing business, as a way of recouping the money his father lost in the vegetable shipping venture. He is advised that if the United States enters the war, the price of beans will skyrocket. Cal hopes this will finally earn him the love and respect of his father. He goes to his mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet) to ask to borrow the capital he needs. She reluctantly lends him $5,000.

Meanwhile, Aron's girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) gradually finds herself attracted to Cal, who seems to reciprocate her feelings.

Cal's business goes well, and he decides to give the money to Adam at a surprise birthday party for his father, which he and Abra plan together. As the party gets underway, Aron suddenly announces that he and Abra are engaged. While Adam is openly pleased with the news, both Abra and Cal are uneasy, having recently discovered that a mutual attraction for one another is emerging, despite their suppressed feelings. Cal makes a surprise birthday present of the money to his father; however, Adam refuses to accept any money earned by what he regards as war profiteering. Cal does not understand, and sees his father's refusal to accept the gift as just another emotional rejection. When the distraught Cal leaves the room, Abra goes after him, to console him as best she can. Aron follows and orders Cal to stay away from her.

In anger, Cal takes his brother to see their mother, then returns home alone. When his father demands to know where his brother is, Cal tells him. The shock drives Aron to get drunk and board a troop train to enlist in the army. When Sam (Burl Ives), the sheriff, brings the news, Adam rushes to the train station in an attempt to dissuade him, but can only watch helplessly as his son steams away from him with his head out the rail car window, maniacally laughing at him.

Adam suffers a stroke because of the incredible strain, leaving him paralyzed and unable to communicate. Cal and Abra enter the bedroom. Cal tries to talk to him, but gets no response and leaves the bedroom leaving Abra alone with Adam. Abra pleads with Adam to show Cal some affection before it is too late. She persuades Cal to go back into the room. When Cal makes his last bid for acceptance before leaving town, his father manages to speak. He tells his son to get rid of the annoying nurse and not to get anyone else, but to stay and take care of him himself. The film ends with Cal and Abra sitting by Adam's bedside.


  • Julie Harris as Abra
  • James Dean as Cal Trask
  • Raymond Massey as Adam Trask
  • Burl Ives as Sam the Sheriff
  • Richard Davalos as Aron Trask
  • Jo Van Fleet as Kate
  • Albert Dekker as Will Hamilton
  • Lois Smith as Anne
  • Harold Gordon as Gustav Albrecht
  • Nick Dennis as Rantani

Critical reaction

Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader praised the adaptation by Kazan and the "down-to-earth" performances of James Dean and Richard Davalos. Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, described the film as having "energy and intensity but little clarity and emotion"; he notes: </ref>}}

Bosley Crowther calls Dean's performance a "mass of histrionic gingerbread" which clearly emulates the style of Marlon Brando.

Fifty years later, film critic Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, was much more positive, saying East of Eden is "not only one of Kazan's richest films and Dean's first significant role, it is also arguably the actor's best performance." The film's depiction of the interaction between Dean and Massey was characterized by Turan as "the paradigmatic generational conflict in all of American film."


Academy Awards 1956

  • Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Winner Jo Van Fleet
  • Academy Award for Best Actor: Nominated James Dean
  • Academy Award for Directing: Nominated Elia Kazan
  • Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Nominated Paul Osborn

BAFTA Awards 1956

  • Best Film from Any Source: Nominated
  • Best Foreign Actor: Nominated James Dean
  • Most Promising Newcomer: Nominated Jo Van Fleet

Cannes Film Festival 1955

  • Winner - Best Dramatic Film, Elia Kazan

Golden Globes 1956

  • Winner - Best Motion Picture Drama

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "East_of_Eden_%28film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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