Bruce Springsteen did an album in 1995 called “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” DreamWorks may soon be dealing with “The Ghost of Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.” That’s because Deadline says that DreamWorks is planning a new adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” The 1940 version of the book, starring Fonda and directed by John Ford, is considered an all-time, legendary classic.
If you haven’t read the book (in which case I congratulate you on whatever you did to get through high school without reading it!), it tells the story of the Joad family, a poor Dust Bowl family who head out to California to start over after losing their farm during the depths of the Depression. In California, they join thousands of other refugees who find that life their is just as hard, if not more difficult. It’s not an upper of a movie, or book.
It’s a tough road for DreamWorks–on the one hand, classic novels are always considered ripe material for new adaptations, but on the other hand, it’s always hard to make a new version when a classic one exists. The hardest thing is that it’s impossible today in this bright glossy shiny world of filmmaking to recapture the raw dreariness and horror of the Depression, which loomed large in the minds of the audiences watching the movie, and the people making it; you can bet there were plenty of people working on that movie who may have had their own stories of dark days from the previous decade. Even on a Hollywood set at that time, there’s still an element of closeness to the events that we can’t produce today. So any new version will miss that edge. So all they can do with another adaptation is to forge ahead and try to escape the shadow of the previous movie. I can guarantee you that once they have a director and screenwriter set, the first thing we’ll hear is, “We are going back to the book, we will stick more closely to the source material…”
Oh, speaking of directors–DreamWorks says Steven Spielberg will produce. No word on whether it’s even a possibility that he will direct. And hopefully not–this is not the type of material he does well.