DreamWorks is in negotiations with the estate of author John Steinbeck to make a new version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Per Deadline, Steven Spielberg is interested in producing the film — but not in directing. One divisive aspect of this new project will certainly be John Ford’s classic 1940 adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, for which the director received an Oscar. Do we need another screen version?
“The Grapes of Wrath” will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2014, presumably a motivating factor behind DreamWorks’ interest in the rights. The story follows a family of poor Oklahoma farmers, the Joads, forced to move off their land due to drought and the oncoming economic troubles of the Great Depression. In the Ford film, Henry Fonda plays the iconic protagonist Tom Joad.
The rights situation on this one could prove complicated. The 1940 production was at Twentieth Century Fox, which still controls the foreign rights, despite the fact the domestic rights have reverted back to Steinbeck’s estate.
Thoughts on a new screen adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath”? Spielberg may recognize, with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Recession, and devastating tornadoes and wildfires having stormed their way through the country over the past eight years, that the Dust Bowl/Depression subject still resonates. The question is whether the ever upbeat filmmaker will hang on to Steinbeck’s bleak and despairing ending.
In the meantime, it can’t hurt to read the book, one of the great American classics of all time.
See NYT critic A.O. Scott’s take on the movie below; he gets why the big studio production is so great, from Ford’s visual palette to the way Henry Fonda plays Tom Joad (watch Fonda’s unforgettable speech). And so timely. “Maybe it’s time for Hollywood to stand up for the downtrodden and dispossessed,” Scott says.