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Tom Joad returns to his home after a jail sentence to find his family kicked out of their farm due to foreclosure. He catches up with them on his Uncles farm, and joins them the next day as they head for California and a new life... Hopefully. Written by
Colin Tinto <email@example.com>
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Takes no nerve to do something, ain't nothin' else you can do.
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John Ford's film of John Steinbeck's novel has deservedly a classic film mirroring the views of both men and the times the book was written and filmed. Ford won his second Oscar for Best Director and Jane Darwell was the Best Supporting Actress of 1940.
For most of America the Depression started with the stock market crash of 1929. But for the farmers it really began at the end of World War I. Those were good years for agriculture, the war in Europe was a boom for agriculture. But when farm prices dropped after the Armistice, a whole lot of family farms went belly up. Lots of people left the farms for the big city and industry jobs. The Depression years unhappily coincided with some of the worst drought ever seen in America.
This is what many families like the Joads were facing in 1939 when the book was written. The banks had foreclosed on land that had withered to dust in any event. Folks like the Joads picked up and moved elsewhere, like California on a rumor of prosperity and jobs.
America was still changing from an agricultural to an industrial society back then. That causes a lot of trouble for people unskilled in any industrial job training. As a country we're going through something similar today in many areas. We're moving from an industrial to an information based economy. Industry jobs are being lost to other nations and older and poorer workers are suffering for it. It's progress I guess, but it takes its toll.
Some factory worker who has lost his job for any number of reasons can identify to some degree with the Joads, especially if they've lost a home they owned. For the Joads it was worse because they made their living off the land for many generations, identifying with it in a way that industrial workers could not.
Henry Fonda got his first Oscar nomination for Tom Joad. To get the part which he knew he was so right for, he signed a studio contract with 20th Century Fox. That caused him many problems later on, but those are stories for another film review.
Tom Joad is a midwest country kid, a whole lot like Fonda himself. Part of the story of The Grapes of Wrath is Tom himself trying to figure out why these economic forces are crushing him and his family and the way of life he's known. In the end when he leaves the Joad family and hits the open road, he's not got all the answers, but he's asking the questions. Tom hasn't figured it out, but a lot of people with many letters after their names haven't either. He only knows that he's got to get in the fight for economic justice.
Jane Darwell was in films from the earliest silent films to Mary Poppins in 1965. This became her career part and the mother role of all time. She's what holds the Joad family together in good times and bad. That's what moms do and get little recognition for it. Except in this case by the Motion Picture Academy.
John Carradine has his career part in this also. Another John Ford favorite, Carradine plays Casy the defrocked preacher who as he tells it disgraced himself with a female parishioner. After that preaching the gospel didn't seem quite right. When Fonda meets Carradine after Fonda's been released from prison, Carradine is asking a lot of questions about what is man's place in the metaphysical scheme of things. He's developing what we would now call situational ethics. Carradine's questions are on a higher plane, but he certainly inspires Fonda to ask for some answers himself.
The Grapes of Wrath illustrates that at least government can give first aid in a crisis. After being in privately run agricultural camps where they're treated like less than dirt, the Joads happen upon a camp run by the Department of Agriculture where at least they're treated like humans. As it turns out, the Secretary of Agriculture was one Henry A. Wallace who was running for Vice President that year with Franklin D. Roosevelt. I'll bet any number of people saw The Grapes of Wrath and saw a message of support for FDR and the New Deal.
Given some of the problems of the American economy today, The Grapes of Wrath though it appears dated isn't really all that much a relic of our past. It's both a timeless book and a timeless classic film.
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