East of Eden (1955)

This adaptation of the last 80 pages of John Steinbeck’s sprawling novel would be a classic simply for the fact that it represents director Elia Kazan’s first use of CinemaScope, a wide-screen format he conquered quickly with the creation of stunning landscapes and effective interior scenes. It would deserve at least a footnote in film history as the first movie for which Leonard Rosenman wrote the score and for his innovative recording of key sequences before they were filmed to create a seamless blend of picture and music. Its number one attraction is James Dean’s first starring role. The character of Cal Trask, a California farm boy fighting for his father’s love, would create the sensitive anti-hero image that instantly turned him into an icon for generations of troubled youth. This was the only one of his major films Dean lived to see (he died a few months after its release). It’s a work of towering passion, helped greatly by the performances of Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Burl Ives and Oscar-winner Jo Van Fleet.

Dir. Elia Kazan