This truncated screen version of John Steinbeck's best-seller was the first starring vehicle for explosive 1950s screen personality James Dean, who plays Cal Trask, the "bad" son of taciturn Salinas valley lettuce farmer Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Although he means well, Cal can't stay out of trouble, nor is he able to match the esteem in which his father holds his "good" brother Aron (Richard Davalos). Only Aron's girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris) and kindly old sheriff Sam Burl Ives) can see the essential goodness in the troublesome Cal. When Adam invests in a chancy and wholly unsuccessful method of shipping his crops east, his wealth plummets. In an effort to save the business, Cal obtains money from his estranged mother (the proprietor of a whorehouse) and invests it in a risky new bean crop. The gamble pays off (thanks in no small part to the war), but Adam refuses to take the money from Cal, and the resultant quarrel causes Adam to have a stroke. Released the same year as Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden provided Dean with his first Oscar nomination, for Best Actor.
by Hal Erickson synopsis