Since next year will be the 75th anniversary of the publication of John Steinback’s masterpiece Grapes of Wrath, the American classic has once again became a highly sought-after property. Deadline reports that Steven Spielberg is leading his production company DreamWorks Studios in negotiations with the Steinback estate to acquire the rights to the novel.
This will be the first time the material has been touched since the 1940 John Ford adaptation, which itself was an award-winner. Ford may account for Spielberg’s interest in Grapes of Wrath. Spielberg has frequently mentioned Ford as one of his cinema idols. That may also be the reason Spielberg is staying away from the director’s chair and is only set to produce the picture. Whoever helms the project has some mighty big shoes to fill. For his work, John Ford won one of two Oscars out of the seven nominations the picture received. The film is a frequent standard of the greatest American movies rankings, making the top 25 for the AFI list. Released a year after the novel came out, the original film was praised by Steinbeck himself, who was reportedly impressed by Henry Fonda’s lead performance as Tom Joad.
The question is, why remake this classic? The novel and film deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl and droughts in Oklahoma in the 1930s. The story follows the Joad family as they head to California, spurred by the promise of high wages for farm workers. In addition to Spielberg, many others have been chasing after the rights to the book. Robert Redford was also bidding for the property with the hopes to Grapes of Wrath into an FX miniseries. These filmmakers have obviously found the social realism inherent to the novel’s content to be relevant to today’s audiences. American cinema has had a long history of Depression-era movies, and it appears that our truly American directors believe it to be essential to our nation’s narrative.
Fox, who made the original, still owns and controls the foreign rights to the film, so it may be a while before negotiations are ironed out. Currently, Spielberg is helming American Sniper, with Bradley Cooper set as the lead, based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL known as the most lethal sniper in American military history.