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Archive for July 31st, 2018

Cannery Row

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By J.D. Lafrance

Expectations for the cinematic adaptation of John Steinbeck’s famous novel Cannery Row were high. It marked the directorial debut of David S. Ward, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Sting (1973) and starred Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. He was coming off the disappointing Heart Beat (1980) while she was fresh from the modestly successful Urban Cowboy (1980). However, Steinbeck purists were upset that the film was a fusion of Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday with an emphasis on the latter, jettisoning the darker tone of the former for a more upbeat vibe. The film’s image was tarnished by a highly publicized lawsuit launched by Raquel Welch who had been fired after only five days of filming and replaced by Winger.

Critics and movie-going audiences were put off by the film’s stylized look (it was shot mainly on two massive soundstages) and optimistic tone resulting in poor box office results. However, time has been kind to this intriguing film, which has aged surprisingly well, anchored by sweet, funny performances from Nolte and Winger, and featuring incredibly detailed set design and absolutely gorgeous cinematography. This hermetically-sealed world recalls other stylized throwbacks to the classic Hollywood era fused with the Movie Brat sensibility that came out around the same time, chief among them Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977) and Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982) that, like Cannery Row (1982), were costly flops, but have enjoyed critical re-evaluation over the years with the exception of the latter, which remains criminally overlooked.
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