Cannery Row (film)

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Cannery Row
Cannery row poster small.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Solie
Directed byDavid S. Ward
Screenplay byDavid S. Ward
William Graham
Based onCannery Row
Sweet Thursday
by John Steinbeck
Produced byMichael Phillips
Narrated byJohn Huston
CinematographySven Nykvist
Edited byDavid Bretherton
Music byJack Nitzsche
Distributed byMGM/United Artists Distribution and Marketing
Release date
  • February 12, 1982 (1982-02-12) (United States)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$11.5 million[1]
Box office$1.8 million[1]

Cannery Row is a 1982 American comedy-drama film directed by David S. Ward in his directorial debut, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. The movie is adapted from John Steinbeck's novels Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954).[2][3]


The story is about the skid row denizens of Monterey, California, during World War II. As declining fish stocks are shutting down a previously rich fishery and the dependent canning industry, bums and prostitutes lead colorful and adventurous lives in a balmy seaside setting.

Doc, a self-employed marine biologist, lives in a dockside warehouse and researches octopuses. Suzy DeSoto, a girl from the local bordello, is working there only out of necessity.

A collection of linked vignettes describes life on Cannery Row. It is depicted as an impoverished area inhabited by a motley band of people who have experienced failures, but somehow have found their niche and a community of strangely kindred souls.

Doc and Suzy don't quite fit in, but are accepted. Mac and the boys gather frogs and sell them to give a surprise party for Doc, which turns into a brawl and breaks the tank housing Doc's octopus collection. To make amends, they buy Doc a present of a microscope but mistakenly get him a telescope, instead.

A deeper mystery revolves around why Doc stays in Cannery Row. Suzy discovers that Doc was once a professional baseball pitcher but quit.

Another character, the Seer, spends his days playing his horn. He depends on the gifts that mysteriously appear, such as groceries. Suzy eventually learns that the Seer is a former baseball player whom Doc injured with a pitch to the head, and now Doc takes care of him. Doc and Suzy ultimately find love.



Raquel Welch was originally cast as Suzy but was fired after the first few days of production and replaced by actress Debra Winger, who was 15 years her junior. Welch sued the filmmakers for breach of contract. In the case, MGM claimed Welch was fired for being a "temperamental actress" whose behaviour caused the film to go overbudget. She insisted on doing her hair and make-up at home, and would refuse to co-operate with the director or producers unless she got her own way, thus breaching her $250,000 pay or play contract herself. Welch won the case, and was awarded a reported settlement of $10.8 million in court in 1986. The judgement was upheld at an appeal in 1990, but the whole affair tarnished Welch's reputation in Hollywood. After launching her lawsuit, Welch was never offered another starring role in a major motion picture again.[4][5][6] Second unit filming took place in San Diego, California.[7]


Critical reception[edit]

In his two-and-a-half star review, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote of the film: "The movie is almost always good to look at, thanks to Richard MacDonald's sets (he linked together two giant sound stages) and Sven Nykvist's photography. And Nolte and Winger are almost able to make their relationship work, if only it didn't seem scripted out of old country songs and lonely hearts columns. It's tough to pull off a movie like this, in the semi-cynical 1980s (it would have been impossible in the truly cynical seventies). I guess we no longer believe in the essential heroism of the little guy, and in the proposition that anyone can succeed with a little luck."[8] Vincent Canby of The New York Times dubbed the film 'precious nonsense' and felt it was a poor adaptation of Steinbeck.[9] Variety praised Nolte and Winger's performance, but felt the material wasn't up to them.[10]

Cannery Row holds a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes film review aggregator based on 7 reviews by critics.[11]

MGM reaction[edit]

MGM head of production David Begelman later said he should not have greenlit the film, saying it "was beyond the reach of the filmmaker to realise the wonderful, wonderful values he had in a brilliant script."[1]


  1. ^ a b c Boyer, Peter; Pollock, Dale (28 March 1982). "MGM-UA AND THE BIG DEBT". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
  2. ^ Steinbeck, John (1993) [1945]. Cannery Row (Reprint ed.). London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140177381.
  3. ^ Steinbeck, John (1954). Sweet Thursday. New York City: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0670686865.
  4. ^ Caulfield, Deborah (28 June 1986). "Welch Licks Wounds Of Battle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  5. ^ Murphy, Kim (25 June 1986). "Raquel Welch Awarded $10.8 Million Over Firing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  6. ^ Higgins, Bill (10 December 2015). "Hollywood Flashback: When Raquel Welch, Fired and Replaced by an Actress 15 Years Younger, Sued MGM (and Won)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  7. ^ (1983-12-01). Spotlight on filming in SD County. Daily Times-Advocate, 52, 56-57.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times film review, January 1, 1982. Accessed: June 22, 2013.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (12 February 1982). "The Fanciful Dropouts on 'Cannery Row'". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Cannery Row". January 1982.
  11. ^ "Cannery Row". Rotten Tomatoes.

External links[edit]