James Dean as Jett Rink striking oil in "Giant"
One of James Dean's greatest scenes (along with the birthday scene from Elia Kazan's "East of Eden") in "Giant" directed by George Stevens. Jett Rink is a great rise-and-fall story, embodied by a 24-year old Dean in his swan song. He would infamously die just 2 weeks after wrapping up his scenes for this movie. Film legend James Dean in his final role as Jett Rink, here taking stock of the little piece of Texas land left to him by Luz Benedict. Set magnificently to music by (the also legendary) Dmitri Tiompkin. "James Dean's talent glows like an oilfield flare.
When James Dean’s character Jett Rink strikes oil as a wildcatter in George Steven’s 1956 epic, "Giant", he goes up to the big house where Liz Taylor lives in order to laugh and drip oil all over the front porch. Covered in West Texas Intermediate crude (later to become the benchmark grade, traded in New York) he gets, shall we say, a little forward with Liz. That’s when Rock Hudson steps in, and decks him.
Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in a publicity still for 'Giant' (1956), George Stevens' mammoth tale of oil men in Texas.
Jack Warner tried to have certain scenes modified in "Giant". Namely, the reference Elizabeth Taylor makes to the oil depletion allowance which favored oil companies. Something like, "How about an appreciation for first class brains?" The oil interests put pressure on the studio, and Jack Warner begged George Stevens to take the line out. George said, "No dice."
James Dean as Jett Rink, soaked in oil in "Giant" (1956) directed by George Stevens
Giant and Texas Oil Tycoons: Through the years Bick attempts to buy the parcel in order to consolidate his land, but the stubborn Jett Rink refuses to sell. Jett's parcel later produces black gold, making him fabulously wealthy as a Texas oil driller. Bick, however, prefers to remain a rancher up until World War II, where he grudgingly begins to drill for oil on his property in order to support the war effort.
When Jett Rink strikes oil and runs in triumph to the Benedict house, Edna Ferber (author of "Giant" novel in 1952) writes: "his face was grotesque with smears of dark grease and his damp bacchanalian locks hung in tendrils over his forehead. He came on, he opened the door of the screened veranda, he stood before the company in his dirt and grease, his eyes shining wildly... The man stood, his legs wide apart as though braced against the world. The black calloused hands with the fingers curiously widespread as they hung, his teeth white in the grotesquely smeared face".
Considerating the differences between the times when "Giant" was filmed and the modern oil field tools, we can trace a history of advancing drilling techniques in this field. "Giant" was set in the 1930′s, a time when the price of oil was controlled by the Texas Railroad Commission because of overwhelming supply. The timeline on the price of oil during this period is actually a story worth tracking. Using the BP Statistical Review’s larger database on the price of oil going back to 1861, it appears that by 1920, the production of the Model T may have triggered enough oil demand to finally get prices over 3.00 a barrel (about 34.00 in today’s dollars). But then the Black Giant of East Texas was discovered. And that sent prices back down to uneconomic levels.