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 WWI-era 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 girl friend Abra (Julie Harris
) and kindly old Doctor Sam (Burl Ives
) can see the essential goodness in the troublesome Cal. In an effort to win his father's love, Cal starts a side business with money secretly borrowed from his mother, Kate (Jo Van Fleet
) -- whom his father had described as dead, to hide the fact that she was in fact a floozy, plying her illicit trade in a nearby town. When a bad crop threatens the family farm, Cal attempts to share his newfound gains with his father, and is rejected. In the explosive confrontation, Aron realizes his father's duplicity about his mother, and that things will never be the same.