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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Do I have your attention? Okay: Go out and watch this movie immediately
because to not do so is, well, it's un-American. John Ford, with this
nifty little film, made the greatest argument for populist/socialist
politics in cinematic history. This movie understands the Depression
and the Dust Bowl and the poor and the hungry and the starving and all
those people that the sign at Ellis Island (or is it at the Statue of
Liberty?) says that we'll take on and help. It understands those people
better than anyone or anything else I know. Steinbeck's novel helps
this movie get to where it needs to be, but, let's be honest, the
Grapes of Wrath is all John Ford.
The sweeping vistas, the excellent editing and pacing, and the acting are of the highest caliber, as befits a John Ford film. I'm amazed every time I see this movie just how moving it is without straying into trite sentimentality. Tom Joad's speech at the end always makes me cry--his chilly delivery of the word homicide at the beginning continues to give me a prickly spine. Fonda was a great actor, and he is certainly at the top of his game here. Without him, interestingly, the film would have probably floundered. No one else could have possibly played Tom Joad; no one would have that charm and charisma and, most importantly, that voice. The rest of the cast is amazing, don't misunderstand, but Henry Fonda is Henry Fonda--an actor unto himself. There is no one like him and never will there be; he is the single most watchable actor of all time.
And this isn't even my favorite John Ford movie! Nevertheless, it's a great film with a great message. Call me a pinko (it's been done before), but what's superb about this movie is its humanism. Yeah, the ideology promotes a type of socialism (ahem, I mean, let's not forget that that is basically what the New Deal was and if you think that system was a bad idea, then fine), but, really, the movie is about caring for people who don't have the resources to care for themselves. Grapes of Wrath is not a scathing indictment of anyone; it's a simple portrait of a family's struggles to overcome the Depression. It's uplifting and shows a real feeling for the downtrodden, and that's more than you can say about most American films that intend to deal with the poor and hungry.
Those shacks with their scrawny kids and threadbare mothers are right
out of a Dorothea Lange photo essay of the Great Depression. Now, I'm
no particular fan of director Ford, but he does nail this social
protest film, which remains an affecting classic even 70-years later.
Production notes indicate Ford had to battle TCF to get as much realism
into the movie as he did. Yet, without those revealing touches, the
dramatic impact would be sorely undercut.
What impresses me is the similarity of conditions between then and now, that is, between the great Depression of the 1930's and the Great Recession (housing bubble) of the 2000's. Instead of a stock market collapse and a rural Dust Bowl, our era has seen a collapse of housing prices and a loss of jobs that has wiped out trillions in home-owner wealth. The collapse has created a new class of dispossessed as banks move in to repossess overdue mortgages. At the same time, the unemployed hope to find a job before government compensation runs out.
In the movie, uprooted families pack up and move west to new horizons, living in tumble- down shacks along the way. Nowadays, uprooted families are either homeless or live in cars, there being scant new horizons to move to. Meanwhile, nameless bankers and Wall Streeters hover in the moneyed background, profiting off the general misery from behind gated communities. The movie goes easy on the contrast between the few rich and the many poor, but the implications remain embedded in the screenplay, especially when the sheriff evicts the sharecroppers from the land.
This brief comparison is not meant to be political. Rather, it's meant to suggest that certain economic dynamics are still with us, even 70-years later, a parallel making the movie's social topic as relevant now as it was then. Of course, as yet there's no Steinbeck or Ford to dramatize the plight in the moving way of the novel or the film. But then, this new era of collapse is still pretty young.
The film itself remains a triumph of casting, staging, and scripting. It's really Ma Joad's (Darwell) film, her strength and sensitivity a stand-in for migrant resilience as a whole. I'm so glad Ford refused to prettify her appearance in any fashion. Fonda too provides just the right humorless edge, that of a good man rendered an outlaw by onerous conditions of the time. Carradine's preacher may be the most interesting of the characters. Having lost "The Call", he's a lost soul amidst the general collapse of all that was familiar. Yet, he retains the capacities of a visionary leader, someone who can help guide the new Israelites into a land of milk and honey. It's part of the movie's tragic sense of dislocation that his new understanding is cut short.
Among many memorable scenes, my favorite is the kids at the roadside diner. The hash- house waitress is a typical sassy type, used to fending off jibes from weary truckers. So, when the deal-making Pa Joad comes in with his two hungry kids, she's at first resistant. But then with the cook pushing, her resistance gives way to the humane person underneath. At the same time, the sentiment proves infectious. And instead of the diner losing money by befriending the needy Joads, the truckers leave a sizable tip. In short, a layer of everyday life is peeled back to show a seldom seen solidarity beneath.
To me, not everything is roses. Ford shows his penchant for broad character humor with Grandpa Joad (Grapewin). I know Grandpa is supposed to be borderline senile; however, his overdone antics threaten to undercut the movie's concern with realistic effects. Also, the waitress's scene ending tribute to the generous truckers is unnecessary. Letting the audience grasp the humane gesture would have been more effective.
Nonetheless, these are small blemishes within a beautifully wrought canvas. My lingering image is the final shot of Tom as he crosses the skyline, a silhouette of the reformist spirit now loose upon the land. My hope is there are many Tom Joads still among us.
Ma Joad was my mother. That is to say her and thousands like her out of the Dust Bowl of the '30s and '40's . I never got to ask ma about those days, she died before I knew that this movie and her life were the same. But my oldest sisters were born in transient camps just like the movie..people were alternately mean and kind just like the movie. When I watch the camp scenes they are as my sister's described them. The director (Ford) has nailed that episode of American history (or just a slice) deftly jumping from the hopeless to the hopeful that these folks lived through. This is a social film true...but it is also a well told morality play with some of the finest words committed to celluloid. Hard to beat Steinbeck . I have the newly restored Fox DVD...excellent quality. They did a faithful restoration. You should never pick up a head of lettuce or put on a cotton shirt without thinking of this film after viewing it. Me....I just remember Ma.
I am deeply thankful that Gregg Toland walked the planet and found
himself to me in multiple projects. Its somewhat easy to pocket his
presence when in the company of a great director. Its why you need to
see something like this where his influence is so obvious it is hard to
Ford isn't a BAD director, so much. He's actually something of a genius in taking life and simplifying it into one or two tosses of simple objects, then framing those simplifications in an effective way. His films work, pure and simple. But that's what they are, pure without challenging ambiguities. And simple in the sense that so-called conservatives politicians mime.
Once you escape the pull of those simplified values you see that his films are a huge waste, fake values manufactured only to support a story strategy; values that have since taken on their own selfish lives.
And here. The story is vapid. The acting trite (excluding Carradine) and offensively staged. Its actually demeaning as if these people suffered not in vain because they can "teach" us something. Suffering is suffering, not lessons.
But you won't see the frustrating reduced, artificial here, even with all the obsolete stagecraft. Its because Toland has rendered this so with such remarkable richness that the art of photography overcomes the thing. He captures nuance that Ford cannot see. His documentation surpasses the fact that it is film extras and constructed sets in front of the lens; the lens sees beyond that and gives us genuine pathos, disconnect. Its never in the parts manipulated by Ford in the foreground, but the background elements, the world in which our little play is staged.
There's something about the quality of the film that I think we will never see again. Even the Coens, when trying to reproduce the textures in "Man Who Wasn't There" Had to shoot it in color and print it in black and white. In a few years, it will all be digital. It may even look like this sometimes.
But what was happening then, in Kane, here, was that there were chemical memories being formed in catalyzed emulsions in a device, while a master of that device had similar chemical processes working in his brain, and he was able to coordinate the two. Cognition controlled and preserved past death in smoky traces of silver.
Bless you Gregg.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
This is an extremely sentimental and worthwhile film that fans of
Hollywood's Golden Age should see at least once. While I don't think
it's director John Ford's best film (I preferred HOW GREEN WAS MY
VALLEY, THE QUIET MAN and FORT APACHE), it is superb and well-crafted.
Some of the acting (in particular Jane Darwell as "Ma") was terrific
and very realistic, while occasionally it was a bit over the top (John
Carradine as "the Preacher"). And the story itself was excellent and
well-constructed--making an emotional and heart-felt appeal for justice
and a more Socialist nation in response to the poverty of the Great
Depression. You can't help but be sucked into the pitiful yet somehow
hopeful lives of the Joad family. While some of the facts were
definitely exaggerated in order to make this point (making it a
one-dimensional fight between good and evil), the overall message of
upheaval and loss was important and potent.
I am a history teacher and so naturally I gravitate to films like THE GRAPES OF WRATH. It is an amazingly powerful film that is extremely touching and lovingly made--though historically, some of the film is pretty much fiction. While most web sites I checked praised the book, one presents a thoughtful and documented analysis of the actual Okie experience and compares it to the book and movie--coming up with many ways in which THE GRAPES OF WRATH isn't a totally accurate portrait of the times. Some examples cited were the general success the "Okies" had when they arrived in California, that the exodus to California from most of America PRE-DATED the Dust Bowl years and the Dust Bowl itself had very little actual impact on Oklahoma (though it DID affect Kansas and some other states considerably). This isn't to say that the film is completely fiction or it was a bad book or that Steinbeck was a Communist, but that Steinbeck wasn't always careful in his research and seemed to stretch facts to make his social and political statement. See for yourself--it makes interesting reading at: http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/20/jun02/steinbeck.htm
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie itself is generally recognized as about as good (or great) as
you can get, especially considering that it was shot in 33 days. But it
often gets nailed for two scenes, one absent from the film, the other
changed drastically. No Rosasharn is not seen in the film nursing the
dying old man from her swollen breast. If the scene had been shot in
1939 (or even suggested), the movie would never have been released. The
second problem often pointed out is that the ending is too upbeat, what
with Ma Joad's carrying on about how men live their lives in jerks
while women flow along like Anna Livia Plurabelle, and "we're the
people that live." That last scene was written by Zanuck and was almost
essential to a successful film in the late 1930s. Of course tragedies
had been filmed for years, but ordinarily the tragic hero or heroine
had earned his or her fate. Both audiences and authorities would have
waxed wroth seeing an honest close-knit family crushed by an American
economy that was totally inimical to their welfare. We need to look at
art in the context of its time.
From the Marxist perspective that Steinbeck used in writing the novel, Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) is the protagonist but the two most important characters are Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) and Casey the Preacher (John Carradine). Ma represents what Marx called "false consciousness," the tendency to attribute our misery to our own flaws, to bad luck, or God's will. Ma Joad's solution is retrograde -- to hold the "fambly" together. Casey, on the other hand, discovers "class consciousness." It's not our fault. The flaw is systemic, and the solution lies in correcting the inequities in the system. Our allegiance has to transcend groups like the family and embrace all the exploited workers. The film endorses not Marx's revolution but a milder form of socialism -- the government-run labor camp with its democratic "sanitary units", and the emerging union movement with its collective bargaining. Steinbeck's polemic is more acid. The novel has a reference to the extremely wealthy William Randolph Hearst (better known as Charles Foster Kane) who is described as have "a mean face and a mouth like a a**hole." There aren't many references to communism either in the novel or the film, just a few remarks about "Who is these Reds, anyways?" Still pretty bold stuff for the 1930s with the public in one of its periodic Bolshevik scares!
No need for anxiety, though. By the late 1930s the Great Depression was easing up, and World War II was about to bring it to an end. Bakersfield now looks as if Tom Joad had made a successful escape and decided to open a chain of organic food stores.
This is a marvelous film. To single out just one shot, note when the Joads drive through the first starving Hooverville. The camera is mounted on the front of the old truck and travels slowly, without any cuts or dialog, through groups of wary, singularly ratty looking people, men and women, young and old, some resembling photos of criminals from old Police Gazettes, who "don't look none too prosperous."
If nothing else, the film is a valuable corrective to the current view that people are poor because they're lazy. How did one third of a nation become so terribly lazy in the years following the 1929 stock market crash?
Wow...this movie is just WOW !! I've been wanting to see it for such a long
time but I never got the chance. Now, I finally did and it even goes beyond
my highest expectations... I was prepared to see some class-A drama but
everything what this family goes through is even worse than I thought. This
famous movie milestone goes about the Joad family. They have to leave
everything they own in Oklahoma behind. Them and several other poor families
are attracted by California because there is supposed to be work and a place
to live. The long trip is filled with misery and when they finally get in
California, it seems that they've been deceived once more. There's almost no
food and 8 hungry mouths to fill.
It's impossible not to get touched by the Joad family. All the characters are so sad but at the same time so brave. They don't give up and keep fighting...you just have to encourage them while watching this film. The Grapes of Wrath really makes you feel happy you live in this era and in this part of the world. You know stories like this really happened in the old days and they still do in some parts of the world. This kind of film is excellent to make you realize you have nothing to complain about.
The dramatic highlights in this motion picture are countless : The flashbacks about how families are driven away from their homes, the grandfather's "funeral" , the mother and son conversation near the end... All these scenes and several other ones are indicators of great drama and brilliant cinema. The Grapes of Wrath received several prices and nominations and it deserved every single one of them. Every element in it is flawless. Henry Fonda's portrayal of Tom Joad is one of the most intriguing characters ever shown of the screen. He's absolutely brilliant.
The highest possible recommendation isn't yet high enough to describe The Grapes of Wrath...If you ever have the chance: SEE IT !
"The Grapes of Wrath," is a very well known film based upon the conditions and hardships of the Great Depression. I found it to be very interesting that I could actually tell that some scenes were filmed on a sound stage. The sound gave it away. I noticed that in a scene where Tom and the former preacher were walking "outside" that when they talked, I could hear their voices echoing. I never have been able to really distinguish between on-scene location and on stage. But, in this movie, surprisingly I was able to because of the echoing. But, the lighting in that scene is awesome! It really captures that its later in the day, going on evening, and there is a storm coming. The camera work is pretty basic. The natural lighting of the candle as Tom, the preacher and Yulie are talking emphasizes the conversation they are all having. Good plot, basic filming, interesting light and the sound in some scenes is not synchronized or recorded right in relation to the location/set.
as much as a story can be excellent and a legendary and highly regarded as one of the best in history a visual experience can ruin it for you... for some of the same reasons i panned easy rider i can look at and be disappointed with the grapes of wrath... the timeless story or a displaced family in the great depression is half enhanced by the grainy look of the film half inhibited by the light flickering and dark photography... some night and indoor scenes at least in the copy i saw was impossible to see the action... the sound however was excellent... i am aware of the age of the film but i would imagine they would do a better job cleaning up this classic film... which i feel was over rated by nostalgic idiots that praise things that were already popular... the story carries much emotional weight and the acting is all very good but if you cant see or are distracted by the visual presentation on an HD monitor something is wrong... its still an essential classic i just need to try and find a cleaner copy i guess
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film brings to light the great struggles people went through during the depression. It is a brutal reality check of what our futures may hold, a world of struggle and hurt that we can not even fathom. This hard working hopeful family is only one on the long road to a more fruitful life, and though along the way they hear of the good and bad to come they continue on. Throughout their journey one by one family members are lost; through death and separation. When they finally arrive to their land of hope it is one of little earnings and less than humane working conditions. In the end after all they have gone through they remain held together by Ma who never gives up on her family, constantly pushing them to persevere.
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