By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –
John Steinbeck remains one of the greatest writers of all time. His literary masterpieces entitled The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden have film versions that are just as iconic as the original publications. Part of the appeal of John Steinbeck’s writing is a somewhat religious tone that celebrates America itself. Therefore, it is not surprising that the 1955 film adaptation of East of Eden would become an Oscar-winning classic during its original release.
In spite of the changes through the adaptation process, this film honors the religious aspects of the novel while openly displaying the beauty of the Salinas Valley that provides the setting for this epic story. Jo Van Fleet definitely deserved an Oscar for her supporting role as Kate because she essentially becomes that character while also displaying a unique sense of style through her hauntingly beautiful costumes. James Dean became the first performer to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination as “Cal,” which is perhaps his greatest role even though one could argue that Dean’s best work is in either this film or Giant (1956) or Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The film reveals the themes of Steinbeck’s novel while also being its own entity since it does not exactly follow the original source material. Nevertheless, this is still a powerful film that is as fundamental as the clash between good and evil itself.
Like many film adaptations, the film version only covers about a small fraction of the original novel. Watching this film was a bit frustrating because I have actually read both The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden even though there is a lot of missing material in both films. Then again, it is hard to adapt novels that are several hundred pages long, and no one would be willing to do what David O. Selznick did when he filmed Gone with the Wind (1939) even though I consider that film THE crown jewel in American cinema (but that is my own opinion of course).
On a side note, there were some parts of this film that obviously used green screen technology, but at least the production values were actually amazing because the visual design of the film (almost) perfectly captures the vast splendor of the Salinas Valley.
It is a real shame that James Dean died from a traffic collision at such a young age, but at least his legacy lives on in his stellar body of work, especially this American classic. This film makes me feel grateful for residing in California because it has provided the backgrounds and production designs for some of the greatest films of all time, including La La Land (2016).
East of Eden (1955) Movie Review
Take a Drink: for every Biblical reference
Drink a Spirit: every time Cal does anything sinful/naughty
Drink a Cheap Drink: every time money plays a major role in the plot
Drink a Shot: for every beautiful shot of vegetable fields and the Salinas Valley
Drink the Same Drink: as the characters do on-screen (but not literally, please)
And Cheers: to the brilliance of Elia Kazan for his adaptations of some of the greatest works in the American literary canon!