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Monday, October 12, 2015

Watching East of Eden unreel on The Road of Rereading

To fully finish up with the summer portion of my Road to Rereading series, I must take a look at the two film adaptations of Steinbeck's East of Eden, starting with the well known 1955 Hollywood version.

 That movie focuses on the latter half of the book, making Cal Trask(James Dean, in his first role and the only one of his three films to be released during his brief lifetime) the central character as he struggles between love and jealousy of his brother Aron(Richard Davalos) over gaining the affections of their father Adam.

Cal's anger is fueled by learning the truth about his mother Cathy(played by Jo Van Fleet, who won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for this performance), who is not dead as his father always claimed but alive and well,of sorts as she runs a brothel in the next town. While he does get a sympathetic ear from his brother's girlfriend Abra(Julie Harris), Cal grows tired of his father's repeated rejections and takes his revenge by throwing the harsh light of reality in both Aron's and Adam's faces:

 Despite the changes from the book(such as deleting the character of Lee, the Trask family servant and moral guide), director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Paul Osborn truly succeed in bringing the print bound world of John Steinbeck's novel to vivid life on film.

Using the second half of the story makes dramatic sense, as it allows the younger characters to discover the mysteries of their elders' past to full effect as well as explore their own emotional turmoils along the way. Kazan also makes you feel as if you've walked into the pages of the original book with the richness of the scenes and the intensity of the actors who bring a strong believably to dialogue that could become easily stilted sounding.

While East of Eden didn't win a lot of Oscars(other than Van Fleet, although Kazan did win the Golden Globe for the film that year), it is considered one of the best American films of all time by the American Film Institute, not to mention by audiences who still appreciate the value of the film today. It certainly holds up after all of these years, not only as a fine example of James Dean's talent but as a sincerely rendered slice of Steinbeck lore:

In 1981, ABC aired a miniseries version of East Of Eden, starring the likes of Timothy Bottoms and Bruce Boxlietner as the first set of Brothers Trask along with Jane Seymour as the devious Cathy Ames. The miniseries format allows the story line to stay truer to the source material, which is a plus, yet it is a little hokey when it comes to the actual story telling.

Granted, I've only watched Part I(which is over two hours long) and yes, I knew to expect the dramatic pauses for commercial breaks and some over the top acting. However, the male leads are a bit bland at times and the dialogue they're asked to render does sound awkward coming out of their mouths.

 However, Jane Seymour really shines as Cathy, whose dark nature is given full reign as her wicked ways are highlighted in much the same manner as her literary incarnation.

 She was quite the small screen temptress back in the day(way before her Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman stint) and she's fun to watch as she seems to be having a good time with this character.
She did win a Golden Globe for this role and judging from what I saw of her as the younger Cathy growing into her own brand of evil, Seymour truly earned it.

I will watch the rest of the miniseries,which is available on home video, to see how the rest of the book is played out(and Lee is definitely included here, another reason to watch) but I think it's safe to say that Cathy is the sinister shining star of this take on Steinbeck's saga:

With that, my summer selection is done and by November, I'll be heading into my final seasonal selection which is an old favorite of mine. Louisa May Alcott's Little Women may not have been the apple of her author's eye but this sisterly tale still has charms for many generations of women and girls.

For the media portion of this reread, I'll be featuring the recent Pemberley Digital webseries The March Family Letters, along with the 1994 film version starring Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale.

There's an embarrassment of riches when  it comes to adaptations of Little Women and while the 1994 film does leave out a lot, it has a good amount of merit to it(plus, I still own the official popcorn bag!) that makes it worth a rewatch. And, yes, I do want to be Jo but am more like Beth in some ways and Meg in others. See you soon on this last leg of The Road of Rereading, with the delightful March sisters in tow:

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