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In a previous post Summer Reading and Future Viewing I listed some upcoming movie adaptations of literary works, among them are Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, incidentally both are Steven Spielberg’s projects.

The earlier adaptations of these two titles had since become classics. Released in 1940, both films shared the limelight in the 1941 Academy Awards. Rebecca won Best Picture and Best Cinematography while John Ford won Best Director for The Grapes of Wrath, and Best Supporting Actress went to Jane Darwell as Ma Joad.

From the comments in that post, it’s interesting to see the ripples from loyal fans of these two classic films. They want to say no thank-you to Mr. Spielberg. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine as Maxim and the new Mrs. de Winter had left an indelible mark in their movie memories which no one else can replace, nor the stern and creepy Mrs. Denvar. Alfred Hitchcock would have been most pleased.

Joan Fontaine & Laurence OlivierLikewise, Henry Fonda owned the role of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. And, who can match Jane Darwell as the Joad family pillar, Ma, who won an Oscar Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

Family Joad in The Grapes of Wrath

Fond memories aside, a remake could reap some benefits if placed in the right hands. The Great Gatsby is a good example, and it’s not even in perfect hands. But we’ve all witnessed the fanfare, just the buzz of a major movie production can do much to turn a school text into a bestseller.

With the first trailer of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation released in April, The Great Gatsby had sold more copies than Fitzgerald could ever have imagined. The hype had sent it to the top of Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s sales in both print and eBooks. The title on Kindle had outsold all its paperback. And this even before the movie was released in May. BTW, The book sold less than 25,000 in Fitzgerald’s life time, and he considered himself a failure. If he had known of the Gatsby ripples and splashes half a century later, he would have died a happier man.

A movie adaptation today can be the best promotion for a literary work. If the movie is done well, so much the better. If it’s not, viewers would at least be driven to seek the truth. Is the book that bad? Hopefully they would read to find out. These two new adaptations being produced by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks could mean a certain level of standard.

Rebecca Movie PosterThe Grapes of Wrath PosterFor both Rebecca and The Grapes of Wrath, no big screen adaptations had been done since their 1940 productions, so a contemporary remake can be an appealing venture. A modern day take on an old story can refresh it for a new generation of viewers. Come to think of it, how many of today’s Twilight audience have seen Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine on screen, big or small? Or even heard of them? Alfred Hitchcock would be more well known among viewers today, but probably because of Psycho rather than Rebecca.

A genre like Rebecca is popular nowadays… Suspense à la romance with a touch of Gothic noir. Manderley can be an interesting set to view with modern cinematic rendering and technology. What more, the latest is that Dreamworks has hired Danish writer/director Nikolaj Arcel to helm the new version. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). Arcel is co-writer of that original Danish screenplay. You see, he doesn’t need to walk in Hitchcock’s shadow. He only needs to stalk to his own tune. It will be interesting to see his interpretation of du Maurier’s book.

As for The Grapes of Wrath, with its depictions of poverty, the plight of the migrant workers, social and economic disparity, Steinbeck’s 1939 Depression era classic can be a timely and relevant film today. We won’t get back the authentic view of the drought-cracked landscape from Oklahoma (the film was made just one year after the book was published) and follow the Joad family’s beat-up truck sputtering on Route 66, leaving deprivation behind to press on towards a land of elusive dreams, California. I can see the new version inundated with CGI’s fabricating the exact opposite of what we see in The Great Gatsby. But Steinbeck’s story can and should remain intact, regardless of the styling, for its timelessness.

Further, remakes don’t have to be exact modern replicas of their older cinematic versions. Actually, better that they break away from previous adaptations to offer a fresh look, a relevant take for today’s viewers, and entertain with some present-day nuances and humor. An excellent example is the recent Shakespearean remake of Much Ado About Nothing by Joss Whedon, shot in his own Santa Monica home with swimming pool, stuffed toys, wine glasses and smart phones.

Let’s release our hold on these two classic films and come back to the future. I’m most curious to see the new adaptations. Who do you think are the best pair to play Maxim and the young and innocent Mrs. De Winter? My choice would be Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. What about Tom and Ma Joad for The Grapes of Wrath?

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Some updates on book to film:

Ben Stiller directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty based on the famous short story by James Thurber. The film will be the Centerpiece Gala at the NYFF later this fall and with that, Oscar buzz.

Another classic to be adapted will be Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Mia Wasikowska will transform from Jane Eyre to Emma Bovary. Paul Giamatti also in. Here’s the link to IMDb’s page.

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