Wow, this started as a postscript to the article I posted on the Examiner going over tonight's schedule of John Steinbeck films airing on TCM, but even though I like to inject a little of myself into my writing over there this just seemed far too opinionated and personal for what I consider a news site. But even after I reached paragraph three and realized this I just kept on writing figuring I'd have someplace to post it. Here you go:
...and now for a little editorial note. Despite suffering through "The Pearl" and "The Red Pony" back in junior high, over time John Steinbeck would emerge as my own favorite writer. While lacking the overt masculinity of Hemingway and the pure artistry of Faulkner, contemporary Steinbeck wrote with a voice which spoke very clearly to me, almost as if he was somebody's Dad down the block who I admired.
In my late teens and early 20's I managed to read every word he had ever written which was available in print up until that time. No small task in terms of collecting in the late 80's/early 90's as I only had my choice of a few local used book stores in those pre-internet days for the tougher out-of-print titles.
Yes, I devoured the marine biology of "The Sea of Cortez," as well as his war correspondence from "Once There Was a War," his posthumous work about the Knights of the Round Table, "The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights," and perhaps enjoyed two volumes of his journal entries more than anything else he'd ever written as they offered an incredible peek into his mind and were an inspiration to me as a fledgling writer.
At the time the only Steinbeck film adaptations I really liked were "Of Mice and Men," and that was because it was taken from a very short novel and most of the elements were included, and "The Grapes of Wrath," which despite some differences in the novel was obviously molded by John Ford into an outstanding film on its own merit.
Though I must admit I've recently viewed "The Grapes of Wrath" for the first time in several years and was blown away by how good it was leading me to believe my younger self may have had some problems with it. It saddens me that as the years go past I've allowed the original novels which I loved so much to cascade from memory, as I now, like I'd imagine most do, consider the film the definitive version of "The Grapes of Wrath."
I struggled with "East of Eden" for a long time because despite some of the soap opera elements throughout this massive novel the morality tale had really connected with me. I was very upset that the movie featuring James Dean only included a small sliver of what Steinbeck had actually written, just one tale of what was a multi-generational epic. In time I came to grips with that and now I don't hesitate to praise Kazan's "East of Eden" in the least...though it is a case where I really do wish I'd seen the movie before I read the novel because it always does feel kind of incomplete to me, despite its greatness.
I dislike "Tortilla Flat" passionately because it was a novel I'd really enjoyed and again, while the details are now dim in memory, the film did not live up to expectations. I also don't care for Spencer Tracy when he attempts to spread his wings like this and play with an accent. I feel he spoils this as well as the more popular and prestigious "Captains Courageous" and "The Old Man and the Sea," because I just find his speech too jarring and for me, unbelievable. I'm sure that's an unpopular view but I'd have much rather seen a Paul Muni attempt these roles and leave Spence to more typical parts showing him off as anywhere from hard-boiled to crotchety depending upon the date of release.
Confession: If I've ever seen "The Red Pony" it was probably back in that junior high class that I mentioned earlier, I don't recall the film at all and am hazy on the book as well. I should really make an attempt to catch it tonight.
TCM could have spiced up the schedule by including the rarely seen "The Moon Is Down" (1942) and "The Wayward Bus" (1957), but these are both 20th Century Fox releases and so I understand and turn my gaze towards Fox Movie Channel with faint hope.
It's also not airing, but another Steinbeck favorite of mine is "Cannery Row," which while made into a movie in 1982, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger, was another sore disappointment for this Steinbeck fan. While I unmercifully complain about remakes, here's a movie that could really use another shot.
The Steinbeck title I'd most like to see adapted? It's not even a novel, but a travelogue, and while I wouldn't call it my favorite it ranks up there among them: "Travels with Charley," which Steinbeck wrote in the 1960's after he and his dog, the Charley of the title, climbed into a motor home and drove across America and back noting conditions of the time and more interesting, people of the time. Perhaps this is a case of being better off not getting what I wish for because I do realize the title may stand all the more higher in my recollection just because it has yet to be tainted by any film adaptation.
Sadly, as I went to my shelves to find a Steinbeck title to refer to tonight I could not find one. They're all here somewhere but they've grown distant to me. Possibly even distant enough to have been packed out of sight in boxes to create space for titles spotted along my shelves which have brought me nowhere near the enjoyment that John Steinbeck's work has through the years.
I think I'm going to have to find that box. I haven't read fiction in recent years, preferring non-fiction titles about film and business, and I admit I haven't the patience at this point to crack the spine on a monster like "East of Eden" anytime soon, but Steinbeck offers gems in all sizes, surely I could work Charley or Ed Ricketts back into my day sometime soon. I hope so, I largely wrote this hoping to urge myself to do so.