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Steinbeck on Screen

November 2, 2010

by John Farr

John Steinbeck involved himself in some pretty interesting collaborations with the best filmmakers of his time. Here are three of John Farr’s favorites.


The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Triumphant film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s book, tells story of the Joad family, farming Okies who lose everything in the infamous Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. They are forced to pack their meager possessions in a jalopy and drive west to California in a desperate search for a second chance.

WHY I LOVE IT:
Directed by the brilliant John Ford, this movie is pure cinematic poetry, with Henry Fonda giving the performance of his career as Tom Joad and actress Jane Darwell winning an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of Tom’s beleaguered mother. It is a movie that speaks to the indomitable nature of the human spirit.


Lifeboat (1944)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
In the Second War, an American vessel carrying civilians is sunk by a German U-boat, but not before the U-Boat is destroyed by return fire. An unlikely group of survivors end up in a single lifeboat, including war correspondent Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), engine room mate John Kovac (John Hodiak), business tycoon Charles “Ritt” Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), and sailors Stanley “Sparks” Garrett (Hume Cronyn) and Gus Smith (William Bendix). Most intriguing, however, is the presence of a refugee from the U-boat named Willy (Walter Slezak), who speaks no English and inspires heated controversy. Will this colorful group survive until they’re rescued, or kill each other off while waiting?

WHY I LOVE IT:
“Lifeboat” delivers an intense, provocative take on human nature stretched to its breaking point, as the water-logged group is forced to confront a tricky question: When the Nazi who sunk your ship wants space in your lifeboat, do you play by the rules of the jungle, or the Geneva Convention? An ingenious, unusual entry in the Hitchcock oeuvre, just watch how the Master handles the challenge of doing his trademark cameo. Bendix and Bankhead (in a rare film role) stand out in a stellar ensemble cast.


East of Eden (1955)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
“Eden” is the age-old, redemptive story of Cain and Abel, updated to 1917 Monterey, originating via the pen of writer John Steinbeck (best-known for “The Grapes Of Wrath”). In his first starring film role, the iconic Dean plays “bad” son Cal, who aches for the love and approval of his upright, uptight father, Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Harris plays Abra, the love interest of “favored” brother, Aron (Richard Davalos). Ultimately, she becomes romantically torn between the two brothers.

WHY I LOVE IT:
Another ‘50s Kazan landmark, “Eden” boasts vibrant color and atmosphere, top-flight performances and a dazzling screenplay adapted from the Steinbeck novel by Paul Osborn. Oscar-nominated Dean, Harris, Ives and Oscar-winner Van Fleet (as Cal’s reclusive, disreputable mother) all comprise a stellar ensemble. Don’t pass this classic by.


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  • comments (0)
  • rayban

    Great choices, John, all three films are well-worth any movie lover’s time. And I also like Lewis Milestone’s 1939 film adaptation of “Of Mice And Men”
    with memorable performances from Lon Chaney, Jr. and Burgess Meredith.

  • rayban

    Great choices, John, all three films are well-worth any movie lover’s time. And I also like Lewis Milestone’s 1939 film adaptation of “Of Mice and Men”, which has memorable performances from Lon Chaney, Jr. and Burgess Meredith.