Supplement to Ken Burns’ 'The Dust Bowl': How About an Accurate Remake of 'The Grapes of Wrath?'

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The 1940 movie adaptation of "The Grapes of Wrath" still stands alone as a brilliant example of filmmaking that moves every thinking person. For those who've read the original John Steinbeck novel, however, the awareness of the movie providing a happier ending (and changing a few other details) has never proved completely satisfactory. In the context of the time the movie was released at the end of the Great Depression and eve of World War II, it arguably was necessary for a sense of goodwill, as well as to avoid the hawk eye of the Hays office.

1939 and 1940 were the last truly golden years of Hollywood where a happy ending was a byproduct of every movie. A John Steinbeck novel adapted into a movie had no choice but to be altered, even if many elements in the book of "Wrath" could have been applied to the movie without Hays Code meddling. A brave director and screenwriter would have avoided the tidy cinematic outcome of the Joad family in favor of the book's ending showing a bumpier road still ahead.

Despite those qualms about the 1940 movie, nobody has ever stepped forward for a re-do of "The Grapes of Wrath." We have to assume someone's planned one, outside of opposition to remaking a movie that's celebrated as virtually untouchable cinematic Americana. How does one go about trying to remake a celebrated movie from a classic novel so it's more accurate for the book's fans and for the times?

In the case of others attempting to amend movies that diverged from classic novels, you arguably go to television. We've seen evidence of that with "The Shining" where a 1997 ABC TV miniseries written by Stephen King himself attempted to correct Stanley Kubrick's more complex and superior 1980 cinematic vision. The same applied to a more realistic "Mildred Pierce" done as a miniseries for HBO last year that bettered the classic 1945 film with Joan Crawford.

With History Channel now getting into the miniseries market with a penchant for bloody realism, why not a "Wrath" remake there with every page done accurately? Ken Burns' PBS miniseries "The Dust Bowl" has already given a newfound interest in what really happened during those years complete with horrific details washed away by the dusty winds of time. A faithful remake of the Steinbeck novel would show a realistic dramatization of those realities without the need for talking heads and slow zooms on black and white photographs.

The only question is finding an actor who can equalize the performance of Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. A writer and director should also be found who wouldn't be afraid to use the word "Reds" from the original novel in reference to migrant workers. Such references present the awful truth of how some landowners spoke in those days as one of the long forgotten issues during the Dust Bowl times.

And, by all means, the ending should show Tom Joad leaving the family because of the murder he committed. They also should let teenage daughter Rose of Sharon lose her baby as omitted from the 1940 movie. As well, have Ma Joad prove her steadfastness rather than uttering an end speech as an unseen brave face toward what's ahead.

Yes, showing the novel's ending of the fractured Joad family having to move to higher ground due to a flood would be the most powerful movie ending ever to fit squarely into our times.

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