Some use beans for nourishment, some for flavor, some to stuff beanbags. But in East of Eden, Cal Trask (James Dean) uses them to try to buy his father’s love. In Elia Kazan’s celebrated 1955 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel, Cal is forever moaning over his inability to please his father, Adam (the imposing Raymond Massey). After Adam loses a fortune on a vegetable transport business, Cal resolves to make it back for him by investing in bean futures, believing that, with World War I on the horizon, beans will soon shoot up in price. (To add to his Oedipal dilemma, he begs for seed money from his estranged mother, Kate, who runs a brothel in another town.)
The scheme works, and nets Cal a huge windfall. But when he tries to present the money to Adam as a gift, Adam rebuffs him, insisting that he doesn’t want the fruits of what he considers to be war profiteering. It’s the most fraught crop of frijoles on film until The Milagro Beanfield War 33 years later. It may be hard to imagine anyone getting this worked up over beans, but James Dean could brood like no one else, before or since.