Steinbeck Goes to the Movies
John Steinbeck is associated with good films. Seventeen of Steinbeck's works have been made into TV or studio movies, and Steinbeck himself received three Academy Award nominations for writing. His imagination was visual, lending itself to the silver screen. Among the outstanding movies with Steinbeck's name attached are The Grapes of Wrath (1940), East of Eden (1955), Of Mice and Men (1939) and Viva Zapata! (1952). Of these, he wrote the story for Viva Zapata! and The Red Pony and assisted Lewis Milestone with the final script for Of Mice and Men.
Of Mice and Men (1939)
Truly one of the unsung triumphs of 1939, this adaptation of John Steinbeck's morality tale of two itinerant migrant workers seems just as fresh and powerful decades after its release. Lon Chaney Jr. gives the performance of a lifetime as the sweet yet feeble-minded Lennie, who is befriended by the weary Burgess Meredith. They both would be lost without each other in a mixed-up world. Sensitively directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front), the film features the first pre-credit sequence in American film history and a well-regarded score by Aaron Copland.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Winner of the Academy Award for best director and best supporting actress. The movie classic The Grapes of Wrath features Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell and John Carradine as migrant sharecroppers of the Dust Bowl. This saga of the Joad family and its struggle to reestablish roots in California during the Depression remains a movie masterpiece. With a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, it was directed by the legendary John Ford.
Tortilla Flat (1942)
John Steinbeck's novel was adapted to the big screen in this 1942 film directed by Victor Fleming. Tortilla Flat is a small fishing village in which there is not much money and no work ethic. A good adaptation of Steinbeck's novel, the movie captures some of the earthy, amoral spirit of these Mexican-Americans. Frank Morgan received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, considered the best in the film. stablish roots in California during the Depression remains a movie masterpiece. With a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, it was directed by the legendary John Ford.
Based on a story by John Steinbeck written especially for Alfred Hitchcock, the movie tells of the desperate struggle for survival of a group of people whose boat was torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War II. In this gripping character study about eight diverse survivors, tensions mount after a Nazi is brought aboard. Starring Hume Cronyn, Tallulah Bankhead and John Hodiak.
The Pearl (1947)
Directed by Emilio Fernandez and starring Pedro Armendariz and Maria Elena Marques, Steinbeck returned to Mexico many times to help film this adaptation, working closely with both the director and the actors. During his time there, he became fascinated by Emiliano Zapata's legend, which later resulted in the Elia Kazan film Viva Zapata!
The Red Pony (1949)
This sensitive adaptation of John Steinbeck's coming-of-age story, "The Gift," the films stars Peter Miles as Tom Tiflin, a lonely young boy growing up on a farm in the Salinas Valley. It gives a heartbreaking true picture of a boy growing up on a small Salinas Valley ranch. Screenplay by John Steinbeck, music by Aaron Copeland.
Viva Zapata! (1952)
Following up on his fascination with Emiliano Zapata's life, Steinbeck finished this screenplay in 1949 and convinced his good friend Elia Kazan to direct. Starring Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn and Jean Peters, many consider this Steinbeck's finest original work in film.
East of Eden (1955)
East of Eden is an acknowledged classic, and the starring debut of James Dean lifts it to legendary status. John Steinbeck's novel gave director Elia Kazan a perfect Cain-and-Abel showcase for Dean's iconic screen persona, casting the brooding star as Cal, the younger of two brothers vying for the love of their Bible-thumping father in Salinas, California, at the dawn of World War I. Kazan's oblique camera angles and Dean's tortured emoting may seem extreme by today's standards, but their theatrics make East of Eden a timeless tale of family secrets and hard-won affection.