EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks is in talks with the estate of author John Steinbeck to make a new version of The Grapes Of Wrath. The novel was turned into a classic 1940 film by John Ford, the director who won one of two Oscars out of the seven nominations the picture received. I’d heard this suddenly became a hot movie property, and that Steven Spielberg swooped in to take it off the table over other bidders. I’d also heard that Spielberg was eyeing it to direct, but DreamWorks said definitively that he is only interested in producing the picture, and will absolutely not direct it. It might be awkward turf since director Ford was one of Spielberg’s formative influences. There is some rationale to this, if DreamWorks was looking to capitalize on the 75th anniversary of Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. That anniversary happens next year, and Spielberg is next committed to directing Jason Hall’s adaptation of American Sniper with Bradley Cooper starring.
For those who didn’t read it in high school, The Grapes Of Wrath is about a poor family of tenant farmers forced to move off its land in Oklahoma because of drought and hopeless economic conditions. Spurred by the promise of high wages for farm workers, the Joads head to California, but are beaten down by poverty and hunger in the Great Depression. The film introduced the defiant and tragic protagonist Tom Joad (played by Henry Fonda), who has been an enduring symbol for social reform.
Among those chasing the book were Robert Redford, whose Sundance label was looking to partner with Dark Shadows producer David Kennedy to turn The Grapes Of Wrath into a miniseries at FX. That was until Spielberg came in with the feature and convinced the Steinbeck estate this was the way to go. The rights to the classic novel come with complications, however. Fox made the original film and even though the domestic rights reverted to the Steinbeck estate, the foreign rights to the film are controlled by that studio. Presumably, Fox will have the option to be involved in this feature, whatever form it takes.