John Steinbeck’s East of Eden
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Acorn Media.
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The ABC miniseries, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, aired in 1981 and garnered the Golden Globes for best miniseries and best actress for Jane Seymour. With a running time of nearly 6 1/2 hours, this is the most faithful screen adaptation of Steinbeck’s epic novel (the 1955 version with James Dean, for instance, only covered the material in the last third of the miniseries), which spans three generations of the Trask family from the Civil War to the first World War. One is compelled by Steinbeck’s powerful narrative to push onward, even at the conclusion of the first 2 1/2 hour installment. It is also easily accessible and rewarding viewing for those who have not read the novel.
The miniseries stars Timothy Bottoms as Adam Trask. Bottoms, though fairly likeable, is endlessly awkward, and no more so than when he is playing Adam as a teenager in the opening sequences. He looks thirty, but acts like he’s three. In all honesty, it is a bit of a chore to get through the first forty minutes or so, but it is well worth the trouble once you meet the wicked Cathy Ames, played with brilliant maturity by Jane Seymour. Seymour is truly the star of the first two installments, in what she has referred to as “the best role of my career.” She is spectacular. The third installment introduces us to an older Caleb Trask, son of Adam and Cathy, played by Sam Bottoms. Sam is far less awkward than Timothy and carries the third installment quite well. Also featured in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden are Warren Oates, Karen Allen, Anne Baxter and Lloyd Bridges.
Included in the 3-volume set is a charming new, exclusive 15-minute interview with Jane Seymour, discussing the history of her involvement with the project, as well as touching on a few other highlights of her career. Seymour relates how influential this role was in jumpstarting her career, as, prior to this performance, she was thought of as merely “a bit decorative.” Other special features include cast filmographies and a biography of author John Steinbeck.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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