Do We Need A Rebecca Remake? Another Grapes of Wrath?

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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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

37 thoughts on “Do We Need A Rebecca Remake? Another Grapes of Wrath?”

  1. I love Steven Speilberg beyond words. He’s directed more classic movies than anyone but Hitchcock, he’s the greatest living filmmaker, and he’s the only person in Hollywood who isn’t full of himself. He is a class act all the way. But he was wrong to want to remake Harvey a few years back, and he should not remake these either. Some films should not be touched, even if there is some justification for a newer version (i.e., the newer version being more faithful to the book).

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    1. ReasonableCritic,

      Interesting to see another loyal fan of these two classic films. I know what you mean by ‘some films should not be touched’, but for some reasons, these two are not on my list, albeit they are very well done. I found The Grapes of Wrath particularly moving. But I do have one that I don’t want to see a remake, and none has been done so far, and that’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch.

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      1. To Kill A Mockingbird should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to be born onto this planet. Atticus Finch is my favorite fictional character, and just the idea of a remake with a different actor makes my skin crawl.

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  2. I left my comment in the last post; I’m all in favor of Mulligan and Fassbender for Rebecca. The prospect is pretty exciting and what’s lovely is no matter whether these new renditions succeed or not, we will always have the originals to cherish.
    Hope you’ve had a chance to check out the trailer for Stiller’s Walter Mitty movie; it looks an ambitious effort.

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    1. sim,

      You’re right… and that is exactly the pressure of doing a remake. Viewers would definitely compare the new with the old (‘original’ as you said). I feel a remake could bring out the relevance of the book to a new generation of movie-goers and readers. I’m particularly impressed by how timeless The Grapes of Wrath is. Its realism could well be a depiction of today’s society.

      And Oh, I just watched the trailer for Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty. It’s incredible! If Ben Stiller can do something like this, why did he not have done it sooner? I’m most impressed. Yes, just from the trailer, I can sense it’s Oscar material. Kudos to the cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. Just checked on IMDb… no wonder, he was the Oscar nominated cinematographer of The Piano.

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  3. I think my mind may have changed on this while I wasn’t paying attention to myself, but – what’s the big deal with remakes? It’s like saying the King James has to be the last translation of the Bible ever because it’s just so darned GOOD, don’t you know! Or that allowing other people to cover Beatles’ songs just shouldn’t be allowed, because no one can do them like the Beatles.

    No one’s proposing taking the classics away – they’ll always be ours to enjoy, at least as long as we have enough civilization left to provide electricity for the screenings. But if I have an absolute favorite – like “A Christmas Story” – that doesn’t mean someone else should be denied a shot at it. I suspect if someone tried it I’d watch, compare, and go back to the older version. But if someone wants to do a remake of any film, I say go for it.

    I can imagine a re-make of “The Grapes of Wrath”, for example, as the saga of a family leaving Detroit for the salvation of Silicon Valley. It could be pretty interesting.

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    1. In general, I have no problem with remakes. For most of human history, the same stories were told and retold. We probably place more of a premium on originality than in any other time in human history. If a story is retold a lot, that usually just means the story is powerful.
      But if a masterpiece—say, to Kill A Mockingbird—is going to be remade, the filmmakers should consider the possibility that they will end up looking very foolish.
      The Wizard of Oz movie is so different from the book that a remake would be perfectly justified. But it would not be a wise move.

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      1. I risk looking very foolish every time I post on my blog. Granted, my blog’s a very small cog in the great machinery of creativity, but fear of any sort – of not being accepted, of failing, of being different – is a creativity-killer.

        Fear of looking foolish is the last thing I’d consider if I were considering remaking a film. 😉

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    2. Linda,

      You’ve brought out a very good point. Even the Bible carries many versions. Nothing is as sacred as that. 😉 Some are directly translated from the original language, some are more compatible to modern day vernacular and expressions, like The Message. And we can see the benefits of that rendition. You ‘get it’ right away. As for The Grapes of Wrath, you’ve imagined a most relevant and timely new take. Moving from Detroit to California in search of a new life. I await your screenplay. 😉

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      1. I second that. You might have just been making an off-the-cuff joke, shoreacres, but I could see your idea becoming a movie. It’s what studios are looking for today: New twists on familiar material.

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  4. Fair enough. For the record, I like your idea for a Grapes of Wrath reimagining.
    If a remake comes at the original from a new angle, or the original totally missed the source material, I am all for it.
    But if they want cast Miley Cyrus as an older Scout in a framing device in a remake of To Kill A Mockingbird, and people decide that they want to see it, who I am to deny the the filmmakers thier profit? In this country we have a free market.

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    1. ReasonableCritic,

      Having said all that about how new versions can be more relevant for modern day viewers, I’ve to go against my own argument that… no, I don’t want to see anybody else attempting to be Scout, Jem, or Atticus. They’re perfect. Further, the film is just as relevant for us today as it was in 1962.

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      1. I actually try to model my life after Atticus. Obviously I come up very short, but the film is that important to me. Let them remake it; I will pretend they did not.
        Shakespeare is the one author whose works should keep getting made and remade, and as long as they keep the poetry, the more modern the production the better.

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      2. Most films are fair game. If they want to remake a classic like The French Connection, fine. If they want to remake The Third Man… they had better hire someone VERY charismatic to play Harry Lime.

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  5. Hm. Maybe one day after Steven Spielberg’s bought his rainbow, another egomaniac with a lot of money and industry muscle will oversee remaking Jaws. Or E.T. Or Close Encounters.

    I think this is a terrible idea. I hope this project goes the way of the remake of Psycho.

    And don’t get me going about all the mainstream multiplex-type film fare polluting this year’s New York Film Festival. Milton and I are nauseated.

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    1. lameadventures,

      Interesting POV from you. We’re talking about two films that have never been remade since their first adaptation in 1940. Now 73 years later, someone thinks maybe a new version for modern viewers is a good idea. And I don’t disagree with that… considering the original novels are worthy material, not considering the first adaptation lacking. I know what you’re getting at, the bottom line is a filmmaker’s ultimate concern. Well, so is the publishing industry. Nobody would want to spend money to make a movie and not being viewed, or write a book and not being read. I’m afraid making financial sense is a major consideration for a commercial movie project.

      And… a Jaws or ET remake? Haven’t we been getting them all these years? The latest being Sharknado, and all the ET variations too numerous to name.

      Now that leads to the other issue. Are you thinking of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty when you said ‘pollutants’ in the NYFF? I saw the trailer, and I just thought it could be a good bridge between a commercial movie and an indie artsy film which has only minimal audience. I also hear what you’re saying… film festivals used to be the showcase for indie/art films, but now it’s a distributing platform for major studio flicks and famous stars. All the more we need good films that can bridge the two… worthy of its cinematic art form and can still be appreciated and enjoyed by a larger audience. Again, aren’t the book prizes facing similar debate?

      Thanks for stopping by and throwing some pebbles in the pond. Ripples are proof of life. 😉

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    2. And yet, even Speilberg is not immune to the temptation of the Remake, because he wanted to remake Harvey a few years back. Happily, Tom Hanks, who Speilberg wanted to play Elwood, declined.
      The only problem is that Steve and Tom were the only two people who should have been allowed NEAR Harvey, and now someone else might make it. I’m predicting that Steve Carell stars opposite a CGI rabbit.

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  6. It will be interesting to compare differences and approaches, to be sure. I’d just finished re-watching the latest (?) Jane Eyre with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Your comment about adaptations as promotions for literary works certainly rang a bell. The various choices to condense and translate just make me want to read the book again.

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    1. nikkipolani,

      The one you watched is from 2006. The newest Jane Eyre adaptation was released in 2011, with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, who, I just found out, will be Emma Bovary in a new take on Madame Bovary to come out next year. Here again, another classic work that will enjoy more exposure.

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  7. Because Rebecca is not just about the acting but also about atmosphere I’m willing to give the remake a chance. However, Grapes of Wrath, I don’t think any actors can top the original cast. Of all those Great Gatsby books that were sold because of the movie, I wonder how many people actually ended up reading it?

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    1. Stefanie,

      I agree with you that the 1940 cast is superb, esp. Henry Fonda as Tom and Jane Darwell as Ma, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Oscar for her performance. However, as Linda (Shoreacres) has bemusedly suggested, a remake can be a modern interpretation, relevant for our time and place, like a family leaving Detroit to head out to California for a new start. The casting can be quite open and creative. Have you seen Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing? Watching it, I didn’t miss Kenneth Branagh or Emma Thompson, for I’d be comparing apples and oranges. 😉

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    2. And oh… are the books actually being read? Good Q. I think The Great Gatsby has a much higher chance of being read with 192 pages than The Grapes of Wrath, 544 pages. However, considering the immense popularity of Anna Karenina ,864 pages, among book bloggers when the movie came out, I think the Gatsby buyers knew it would be a breeze. 😉

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  8. I want to throw something out there… much as I object to anyone, even Speilberg, remaking Grapes of Wrath, I have to admit that there is a precedent of sorts. The Of Mice and Men remake with Gary Sinese and John Malcovitch is arguably better than the original.
    And Arti—Branagh’s version of Much Ado About Nothing is fun, but it has lofty pretensions. Wheadon’s take is the most accessible Shakespeare movie I have ever seen. It’s the movie to use to introduce a kid to the Bard. All Shakespeare movies—in fact, all movies of any kind—should feel this spontaneous and immediate.

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    1. ReasonableCritic,

      True. The Branagh Much Ado is a visual translation of the Bard’s work. And the 1992 Of Mice and Men with Malcovich and Sinise is a good one. Haven’t seen the 1939 version so can’t compare.

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  9. I don’t mind remakes in principle, but I do mind when it’s an excuse to do something wildly different from the book whilst cashing in on a familiar title. If a director really wants to remake a movie because he feels he can get closer to the emotion and meaning than the original did, or because so few people today would dream of watching an old black and white movie and so making it in colour with the latest technology allows for images of drought-stricken California, say, that weren’t available first time around, well then I’m all for it. But some use this concept of ‘relevance’ to create travesties of the original. Yuk.

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    1. litlove,

      You know, I really admire what Kazuo Ishiguro said to screenwriter Alex Garland who was adapting his book Never Let Me Go for the big screen (from this TIME Magazine article):

      ‘Your only duty is to write a really good screenplay with the same title as my book.’

      He was generous enough to give the screenwriter the freedom to create something that’s a totally different art form. What resulted was an inspiring film version which matched the book’s structure and spirit.

      You’re right, we don’t want to see screenwriters ‘abusing’ the freedom of expression either. So there you go, like all things, a fine balance needs to be sought.

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    2. I hear what you are saying, but what makes a good movie is very different from what makes a good book. Just because a book is fantastic does not mean that it will translate to film. As far as I’m concerned filmmakers have free license to cut and paste and otherwise shake up literary works.
      I always try to judge a film on its own merits. But obviously if a book is changed for purely cynical reasons, that’s not good.

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  10. I’ll certainly seek out Rebecca; probably Grapes. But you make a really excellent argument for a (good) remake with some street cred — actually get people to read the book. I know I’ve done that before and no doubt will again, even if it is a re-read! And what a great topic for discussion — Lots of very interesting points made on both sides of the argument. Love it when that happens!

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    1. Jeanie,

      Thanks for coming by the pond. Yes, ripples are what we stir up here. And I do think the buzz of a good movie can sell books, esp. with Rebecca, which is already a relatively popular title. Maybe it’s time for me to read Grapes too… but it wouldn’t be as breezy a read. That’s why it’s still on my TBR shelf. 😉

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  11. The phrase I consider offensive and beyond annoying is ‘re-imagining’, rather than ‘re-make’; it for some reason indicates that the creator has come up with a better idea that will improve upon the original. If lucky, these remakes will be different, but not better.

    HOWEVER. ‘Sherlock’, the re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes in 21st century London is an absolute classic. So I just might be wrong.

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    1. aubrey,

      Well, you see… there’s the rub. We don’t like the idea of a re-invention/re-imagining, yet when we see one that’s good, we embrace it. Maybe if we think of every adaptation being just another expressed interpretation of and personal response to the literary work, then we may be more flexible in our acceptance of it. 😉

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      1. True that! Quality is the bottom line – if one wishes to take on a classic, good luck to them, and hopefully they have the imagination for a true re-imagining!

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  12. I have seen some old French movies being remade into American movies (and the public did not even know they had been French originally) – some were better and some were not, so I don’t see a problem with Spielberg getting his stamp on old movies. It is the same with songs – a few years back when I was in Paris there was a big deal on the French news that the original authors of the song “I did it my way” or whatever the title is that was a hit of Frank Sinatra were Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux and they had won in court. Sinatra never wanted to admit the song belong to them and they had to sue him for copyright infringement – it took years and when I was in France that year is when they won their suit. At least Spielberg is saying it is a “remake.”

    You asked about the bookstore Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. Yes I went by it hundreds of time when I was going to school in the Latin Quarter in Paris but did not go inside often. I went to London a lot and would buy books there, they were cheaper, and now when I go to Paris I buy books in French, which are hard to find here in Atlanta. I did take my husband there though as a tourist attraction.

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    1. Vagabonde,

      Any movie made from a lit source has to get the rights to do that, even if it’s a first time adaptation and not a remake. Spielberg has to negotiate with the Steinbeck estate to get the film rights. And, about my question, I was asking not about Shakespeare and Co. but about Vaison la Romaine. I was there a few years ago with my son to re-visit the place of his ‘Music Abroad’ summer program when he was 15 yrs. old. I saw on your post that you’d visited that small town when you were growing up in France. That’s why I was excited to see if you know of that Chapel, 12th Century I think, at the north of that town where my son played a recital.

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