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February 8, 2023

James Dean on Location for the Film Giant in Marfa, Texas in 1955

Marfa is a tiny town in West Texas with just 2,000 residents, about 60 miles from the Mexican border and nearly three hours by car from El Paso. But it’s been the backdrop for some of Hollywood’s most notable movies. It was the site of the 1956 epic Giant, which starred James Dean as a rancher turned oil tycoon.

Why is Hollywood so attracted to Texas? The drive-in movie critic, Joe Bob Briggs, says it’s “because evil thrives in Texas.” People seem especially drawn to West Texas, a land of limitless desolation — and possibilities — onto which they can project greed, lust and violence.

There have been other movies shot out here over the years: Andromeda Strain, Fandango and The Good Old Boys, but Marfa’s place in movie history begins in 1955 with Giant. The 3 1/2-hour epic about a clash between a rancher and an oilman starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean.

Despite being a period piece, Giant — more than any other movie made around Marfa — features the sprawling, windblown landscape as a character. It was shot on the Ryan Ranch, west of town, a sea of rippling wheat-colored grass more than 1 1/2 times the size of Manhattan.

George Stevens, who would go on to win the Oscar for Best Director for the film, paid $20,000 to use the Ryan Ranch, cattle and horses included.


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