The screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, debuts on DVD from Acorn Media on March 3, 2009. The award-winning miniseries aired on ABC in 1981 and won an Emmy for Best Art Direction and Golden Globes® for best miniseries and best actress for Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman).

Spanning the years from the Civil War through World War I, the saga follows the exploits of three generations of the Trask family, as well as exploring the nature of good and evil, the origin of sin, and the hope of reconciliation. The cast includes patriarch Cyrus (Warren Oates); his sons, Adam and Charles (Timothy Bottoms, Bruce Boxleitner); and grandsons, Aron and Cal (Hart Bochner, Sam Bottoms). Cathy (Jane Seymour) is the epitome of the evil that touches all the lives around her.

Cathy is introduced as a child who gets two boys into trouble after the trio is found “playing doctor” in the barn. As a grown woman, she continues to use her wiles to seduce and take advantage of men, most of all Adam who loves her beyond good sense. She leaves him after giving birth to the twins, Aron and Cal, and joins a brothel, where she becomes “Kate”, and later kills the Madam in order to take over the business.

The adaptation is faithful to the plot of Steinbeck’s book for the most part, but there were some things left out, like the way Kate tried to ingratiate herself into the good wishes of the Madam by feigning concern about Cotton Eye, the piano player at the brothel.  She also kills another prostitute who finds out about the poison used on the Madam, but that is left out of the movie.

While Steinbeck presented the issues of brotherly love/hate in subtle terms in the book, they were put into the movie with a heavy hand: As was the evilness of Kate.  In some places the morality messages and the parallels to the biblical Cain and Abel story were too obvious and too over-the-top.

Another problem was pacing. The first two-hour segment could have benefited from some serious editing as it was very slow and I kept waiting for the story to really take off. The series would have also been better with a different choice of music. It was like listening to the music for a melodrama, and while there are elements of a melodrama in the story, it is certainly above The Perils of Pauline.

Despite those flaws, people will be drawn into the story. The last three hours of the mini-series move more quickly than the first, and there is no denying the strong performances of Ms. Seymour and the rest of the cast.

Above all, viewers will want to stay to the end to see if Cal finds redemption and Adam finds peace.

Special features include a new, exclusive interview with Ms. Seymour, a biography of John Steinbeck, and cast filmographies.

Street: March 3, 2009
SRP: $59.99
DVD 3-Vol. Boxed Set: 3 episodes – Approx. 382 min. – SDH subtitles

Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., Acorn Media distributes distinctive home video releases to the North American market with a special focus on the best of British television. Acorn’s DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from Acorn Media at (888) 870-8047 or www.acornonline.com .

Maryann Miller — Maryann’s Web site

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