Film Adaptation of John Steinbeck’s ‘In Dubious Battle’ Opens Friday

Nat Wolff, James Franco and Vincent D'Onofrio in "In Dubious Battle"
Nat Wolff, James Franco and Vincent D'Onofrio in "In Dubious Battle," Photo: Ambi Pictures

Sag Harbor hero and legendary author John Steinbeck‘s 1936 novel In Dubious Battle has been adapted into a film directed by and starring James Franco (11.22.63, The Sound and the Fury). It opens in theaters across the country this Friday, February 17. Unfortunately, it’s not playing anywhere on the East End—it would’ve been a perfect film for the Sag Harbor Cinema, but those days are over, at least for a while.

The first novel in Steinbeck’s “Dust Bowl Trilogy,” which also includes Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), In Dubious Battle chronicles a California apple pickers’ strike, which is tied in with a group called “the Party” that helps organize and lead them. This “Party” is essentially a stand-in for the Communist Party, though Steinbeck never states it as such in the book.

In a January 15, 1935 letter to his friend and fellow young writer at the time George Albee, Steinbeck explained that he had originally planned to write a “journalistic account” of a labor strike, but his imagination and knack for fiction took over and “the thing got bigger and bigger.” As he continued to flesh out the story, the vaunted author told Albee, “I have used a small strike in an orchard valley as the symbol of man’s eternal, bitter warfare with himself.”

Franco plays Mac McLeod, an organizer for the Party and mentor to Jim Nolan (played by Nat Wolff of The Fault in Our Stars), a new Party member who he takes under his wing. The two men, along with their comrades in the Party, inspire the pickers to stand up to the unfair working conditions they’ve basically been forced to endure. Much of the story is about Jim’s political development during this period of upheaval.

In Dubious Battle also stars Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, Wizards of Waverly Place), Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Ed Harris (Westworld, Pollock).

Steinbeck’s title for the novel is taken from lines in John Milton’s epic 1667 poem Paradise Lost, about the war of angels, Satan’s fall from Heaven and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

This film is Franco’s third adaptation of a major literary work. His previous efforts include films of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God.

Watch the preview of In Dubious Battle below.

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