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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.
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 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?
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.
The Grapes of Wrath is one of those great American classics that
manages to get on most of the big lists. With that in mind, I was
expecting a minor let-down because of all the great things I'd heard
about it. Yesterday I had one of those rare experiences watching a film
where all of my expectations were met and exceeded.
I found myself mesmerized by the people in the story; I wanted them to succeed. The Grapes of Wrath is a depressing film, which I knew coming in, but I was surprised by the little instances within the film where kindness was shown. In a film peopled by crooked cops and harsh times, it was refreshing to see these acts of kindness and integrity.
The lighting in the film was also superb. In the opening scene where Tom is in his old house at night it really looks like it's at night. And in another scene, where he has a candle at night, it looks real. I know The Grapes of Wrath is the text-book example of natural lighting, but there's a reason for that. :) And without spoiling anything, I love how the film ended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm will be thereto review John Steinbeck and his great American novel, The Grapes of Wrath, about the westward migration of people during the dust bowl in the Depression of the 1930's. It was a huge hit in 1940, and soon it was turn into a movie directed by John Ford. The film stars Henry Fonda as Tom Joads, the incredible Jane Darwell as his mother. The film stands today as one of the finest examples of sensitive American cinema. It is an incredible combination of gut-wrenching scenes threaded through feel-good scenes that make you laugh and then sob. The movie is about The Joads family. They were destitute by faceless, corporative banks that seized their lands just when Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) got out of prison. Forced out of their farm, the Joads are heading from the dust towns of Oklahoma to California for hope of a job. As aggressively coaxing is needed to acquire Grandpa Joad (Charley Grapewin) from leaving his abode, while the family meek existence is depended on the nurturing of Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) who's strong upbringing sturdily holds them together. When the family arrives upon destination, they harbor terrible living conditions and given low wages in the migrant-worker camps. Hot tempered Tom Joad eventually collides with the wrong side of the law, as he is cornered to leave his family behind. A documented-style production in which seasoned pioneer John Ford received an Academy Award for his appraised directing. The Joads suffers much, and struggle in times of adversity. The visuals of the film, was outstanding. The desolation of the land and the desperation of the people were depicted very well. It does have an uplifting message despite its gloom. A black and white cinematography that would inspire Ansel Adams. Tom Joad's speech is very powerful, and makes you appreciate every meal you have. The idea of the interpretation of the film is that despite being in hard times, the Joads gave to others. Letting others stay with them, helping out others, giving away their food. The faults of the film are these it's really heavy, slow tempo, long, and the Okie accent and dialect is hard to understand. Some harsh language in the book that wouldn't have been allowed in mainstream movies of that time is left out from the movie. The production codes did not allow for the shocking scene of a woman breast feeding a starving man that ends the book. In the book more detail is given about Tom Joad's older brother Noah. In the movie he's hardly featured at all, and in fact completely disappears from the latter part of the film with no explanation given as to where he went. The big difference between the movie and the novel is that the movie goes uphill while the novel goes entirely downhill. This makes all the difference. The uphill fashion of the film version fails to provide closure. For example, it lacks the powerful ending of the book, which I will not spoil. Anyways, this film and book should be read and view in EVERY school to show how lucky we are today and don't appreciated it with our many luxuries our money buys today. It doesn't belong 2 a particular era or country. It's the story of the struggles of humanity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm flummoxed as to which among the two is the better than the other-
John Steinbeck's literature masterpiece or John Ford's motion picture
masterpiece. A panache indeed.
There hasn't been and will not be a better representation of the lives of the people at the time of The Great Depression than this piece of literature adapted as a movie. Only a genius can add life to the characters, make them walk, talk, cry and pray, and bring to the screen what pain and struggle in the throes of poverty really would be.
Tom Joad is out from a penitentiary on a parole. He heads back home only to find no one there. With the help of a former priest who is an now an apostate, go to his uncle John's place just to catch his family members when there about to leave to California. They realize en route that the pamphlets regarding requirement of workers in orchards had been circulating for an awful long time and that the wages weren't as exaggerated as they were in the pamphlets. They lose their ailing grandfather and after the obsequies, they finally reach California. They find tens of thousands of immigrants and somehow manage to get employment and accommodation in an orchard. Meanwhile, Tom kills a man who opens fire on the former priest and kills him. Tom flees the place when all his family members except his mom are asleep. He promises his mom that he would return. The Joads leave the town the next morning to find a better place to habitat.
Jane Darwell is the quintessential mother and matriarch of the Joads. She was rightly awarded the 'Best Actress in a Supporting Role' Oscar.
Henry Fonda perhaps give one of the best performances of his career in this film. He delivers one of the best performances in film history. He deserved to win an Oscar for this performance. Jane Darwell delivered a fantastic performance as Ma Joad, the matriarch of the family. Each scene was done perfectly with lighting, acting raw and brilliant, natural, etc. The film is the story of an Oklahoma family who like thousands of families who battled the Dust Bowl, the drought, the poverty, the starvation, the history, etc. This film is a classic based on John Steinbeck's classic novel. The Joads migrate west to California for the California dream of prosperity and better living but they're like thousands of others. It's heartbreaking and dramatic but inspirational about a family's surviving.
Based on John Steinbeck's Pulitzer prize winning novel of the same
name, about the mid-west proletariat struggle during the great
depression of the 1930's, John Ford's adaptation to film is a sweeping
and emotional drama, displaying the problems entailed when a family are
forced to move west in the search for work. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), is
travelling back to his homestead after five years in prison for
manslaughter. On arriving back he discovers that his family have been
evicted from the family farm due to a corporate take overs, and banks
foreclosing on the land. So the only option is to travel to California,
as they had been presented with a flier advertising picking work.
We follow the family through series hardship across the breadth of the USA. Deaths occur, and the working part of the family are mistreated and abused by ruthless business's, who have seized the opportunity to take advantage of the mass exodus of farm workers, making the "pilgrimage" from east to west. The film is an indictment of the times. Many families would have had to make this journey, mainly due to the greed of financial institutions (sound familiar?).
The film is majestically shot in beautiful black and white. The fact that it was filmed in studios does not seem to make the journey any less real. The film ends with Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) making a statement for the entire proletariat population: "We'll go on forever, cause we are the people". A bold statement, that could be used today. The working classes will always be here, and will always be needed. The people are the most important functioning body in the world. What the film shows historically, socially and politically, is that all moments of history (that is each moment there is failure or change) are in a perpetually cyclical motion - therefore, history perpetually repeats itself.
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