A Cursory Look at Steinbeck’s East of Eden

John Steinbeck’s classic retelling of the biblical Cain and Abel story, “East of Eden” is set to be made into a new film. The book was released in 1952 and its addition to Oprah’s Book Club in 2004 revived interest in the novel. This led Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment to option the book.

East of Eden Gets a Remake

The first “East of Eden” filmed was 1955’s adaptation directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean as Cal. The film only covers the second half of the book. Caleb and Aron Trask, their mother long gone, compete for their father’s love with Cal the “bad” brother to Aron’s golden child . Jettisoning the first half reduces one of the greatest characters in the book, Cathy Ames, Cal and Aron’s mother, to a tiny role and leaves out too much of a great story.

In the first half of the book we meet brothers Adam and Charles Trask, working the family farm in Connecticut. They end up competing for the attention of a mysterious woman, Cathy Ames, who having been nearly beaten to death, stumbles to their house and into their lives. Cathy Ames is a psychopath who will marry Adam and give birth to the twins Cal and Aron.

Cathy will soon come between Adam and Charles and do irreparable damage to her sons Cal and Aron.

The second adaptation was a very good miniseries aired in 1981 that used the entire novel. It starred Jane Seymour in an excellent performance as Cathy. This was the pre- “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” Seymour, and she does a fine job in the role of the woman who nearly destroys two generations of Trask men. As a side note, that version is being released on DVD March 3.

Tom Hooper, who directed the award-winning “John Adams” mini-series, will direct the screenplay by Christopher Hampton (Atonement). The film will be produced by Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer along with Grand Illusions Entertainment’s Jonathan Sanger and Ed Albert. There’s no word on any casting yet.

It’s encouraging to see Hampton, who wrote such an effective adaptation of the novel “Atonement” and Hooper who did such a fine job directing “John Adams” collaborating on an adaptation of one of my favorite novels.

If you haven’t read “East of Eden” read it as soon as possible. It’s a great book and hopefully will be an equally great film.

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