This movie is about the relationship between the United States of America and the Lone Star Republic. After a fast courtship they settle into a twin bed marriage and eventually come to love each other.
The opening act trots like a show horse through picture postcards of the Old South and Old West. The middle act flies like a twin-engine airplane through the pages of Vogue. The short, magnificent concluding act envisions how the Johnson Administration appeared through a crystal ball in 1956.
People both discover and demonstrate who they are through how they confront the irreconcilable. We watch a quarter century of Texan-sized struggle: stallion-taming old-ways old-money rancher vs. gusher-capping new-ways new-money oilman, coffee vs. tea, enlistment vs. deferment, train vs. car vs. plane, old vs. young, and most significant because most deeply tied to power: Anglo vs. Chicano and man vs. woman.
The march of time in USA from the turn of the 20th Century to the post-WWII boom was particularly cruel. Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) spent his childhood, youth, and most of adulthood struggling in heat and dust to maintain his patrimony – a mansion sitting on half a million acres of the middle of nowhere. He and his ilk will always look and feel out of place beside a concrete swimming pool or in a grand hotel. This discomfort pales beside the pain of watching children grow up with values that suit their environment rather than their parents.
Each character sometimes tries to swim with the current of time and sometimes tries to resist it, but is always flailing. Only Leslie Lynnton Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor) floats through time, with a grace that only Jett Rink (James Dean) can fully appreciate.
Dean not only plays, but ages as a man who’s half Heathcliff and half Charles Foster Kane. Had he lived, he would’ve been much more than a teen heartthrob.
As in Rebel Without a Cause, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper both appear. This time, both are in supporting roles as young men who exhibit shy toughness in the Gary Cooper mold.
There’s much less innuendo than could be expected from the definitely gay Hudson and Mineo and the delightfully ambiguous Dean. A jet of oil does, however, bubble to the surface and inundate Dean, who proceeds to clock Hudson in his manhood.
One scene feels timely and I hope prophetic: A blustery Texas senator is humiliated and a businessman who names hotels after himself is ruined because of their bigotry toward Mexican-American neighbors.