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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Grapes Of Wrath is a genuinely great motion picture which makes one
proud to have even a small share in the affairs of cinema. After the
dust-bowl disaster of the thirties, Oklahoma farmers trek to California
in the hope of a better life.
It's a superb film which could scarcely be improved upon. Though the ending is softened from the book, there was too much here for filmgoers to chew on. Acting, photography, direction combine to make this an unforgettable experience, a poem of a film. In 1989, the film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
This powerful film starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford
chronicles the Joads, a family from Oklahoma, driven from their home by
greedy bankers and corporations after their livelihood was ruined by
the dust storms of the mid 30s. These storms displaced around 500,000
people, many of whom went to California looking for work. This caused a
serious overage of pickers and workers in that state and many of the
displaced ended up and starving and suffering in squalor in miserable
camps. Steinbeck chronicled this misery (his own version of Les
Miserables) in Grapes of Wrath, which was adapted the following year
for the screen. Henry Fonda took the role of Tom Joad, which turned his
career into gold. All of the adults in the cast performed marvelously,
from the crazy grandpa dreaming of squishing around in grapes, to Casey
the former preacher who just wasn't sure anymore to Ma, (who won an
Oscar along with John Ford for the film). The overwhelming message
pounds home the misery of these people, the poor treatment they receive
at the hands of the government, police and big business and how unions
and worker rights are the solution to these ills.
This movie is like bran muffins. Not just regular bran muffins, but bran muffins where part of the oil/butter has been replaced with apple sauce to make them more healthy than they already are. At first you are a little bothered and afraid that the taste will be diminished by the alteration, but it's not, they taste just as good, and the muffin provides lots of fiber for your health and little fat to make it guilt-free. The moistness is even enhanced to make the interior extremely moist and inviting. The little crumbs that you would normally discard are captured and gobbled up, making a very satisfying, healthy breakfast. 8/10
John Steinbeck's 1939 novel "The Grapes of Wrath" is widely considered
one of the greatest American novels, and this film is often considered
one of the finest films from one of the greatest American directors,
Following the plight of the Joad family as they leave their home in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and join the westward pilgrimage of so many itinerant workers to California in search of work.
Henry Fonda turns in a flawless performance as Tom Joad and the film is beautifully photographed and directed, but what really sets it apart is the genuine heart that the film has in depicting the struggle of the Joads as they try to maintain their dignity in an unforgiving world.
This film is truly timeless in that many people today are still living in similar conditions.
Henry Fonda should have received the Best Actor Academy Award for Grapes of Wrath. He was outstanding. Instead they waited until late in his life and gave it to him for On Golden Pond. What was the academy thinking? Grapes of Wrath was one of the best movies I have ever seen. It shows just how bad the depression years were. It makes you think about how lucky we are to have as much as we have when they were deprived of what little they had. They did the same thing with John Wayne and Paul Newman. Skipped over them all of their lives and finally gave them Oscars for True Grit and The Color of Money. Sympathy Oscars don't cut it. Great performances should be honored as such and not overlooked. I realize that everyone cannot receive an Oscar. I love the People's Choice Awards. That means something. At least the people, who buy the tickets, get to vote for their favorites. Maybe the "academy" should take a lesson from the regular folks. At least we are fair with our voting.
John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath" stands tall in the history of cinema.
Many critics would say it is the greatest Hollywood film ever made,
even better than Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane." Whatever stance the
viewer takes, it is a must-see movie. A few scenes in this masterpiece
were actually shot on location around Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Though many
from Oklahoma were offended by parts of the book and film, especially
calling the Joads "Okies," others realized what Ford and the author of
the book, John Steinbeck, were presenting. The Joads are depicted as
honest, hardworking salt of the earth Americans knocked down by Old Man
Depression and the Dust Bowl, not as ignorant hillbillies as some
believe. The so-called respectable agricultural conglomerate heads and
big businessmen are the ones shown as malevolent heartless persons,
with the law, especially hand-picked deputy sheriffs, being represented
as brutes and murderers. Sallisaw today honors the movie and the book
by having a Grapes of Wrath Festival each year.
Henry Fonda in a role of a lifetime--and he knew it--turns in his best performance. In one of the great film portrayals of all time, Tom Joad, Fonda is able to capture the essence of this set upon human being who is trying to survive in a world he never made. Pulled apart by society's pliers, Tom speaks for the common people with heart and soul. The viewer knows that this young man with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder who is easy to rile, often responding by violence, is destined to return to the prison from which he was paroled, McAlester, or one just like it. He is admired because he will never surrender, never back down, fighting to end injustice and exploitation of the working man. Amazingly Fonda did not become type cast as a result of playing Tom Joad and went on to play many diversified roles and start a cinema dynasty with controversial Jane Fonda almost equaling her father in acting ability.
Though Tom is the main character in both the book and the film, he is not the hero. That title belongs to the indomitable Ma Joad, who is determined to keep her family together come Hell or high water. She too won't back down but she is also filled with Christian love and charity for all God's creatures, even the despicable and cruel. Jane Darwell deservedly won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her brilliant performance as Ma. Her final dialog in the battered old truck heading for Fresno says it all. The rest of the cast, consisting of John Ford's regular troupe of actors such as Ward Bond, is fine tuned to the nth degree. John Carradine's key role as Preacher Casy is exceptional as is John Qualen's graveyard ghost Muley Graves.
Director John Ford, who also copped an Oscar, with his cinematographer Gregg Toland captures on film the face of hunger by visualizing what it is like to be dispossessed of one's heritage. The most telling image is that of the Joads standing up to unbridled greed when the cats are pushing over their homes. The camera pans away from their defiant figures, a dusty wind whistling through their hair, to focus on their shadows. The wind-blown shadows are all that is left of their previous lives. Their homes gone. Their families torn apart and scattered. All their worldly possessions abandoned. Now they must look westward to California for what they pray is a new beginning.
Modern viewers find it difficult to understand how "The Grapes of Wrath" was considered so controversial that John Ford and his crew had to shoot it in a surreptitious manner. John Steinbeck's socialistic message was watered down somewhat for the movie, but it does peek through every now and then. Tom wants to know, "Who are these Reds?" In those days being associated in any way with the labor movement could get you branded a Communist, even if you did not know what a Communist was. The ending was also changed to make it more upbeat and optimistic.
The music is sufficient to convey the feelings and emotions of the Oklahoma refugees, especially the main theme "Red River Valley." One of the high points in the film is when Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) sings the song to his mother when all are finally having fun once more at the big dance in a New Deal migrant workers camp. Yet had John Ford the foresight to utilize the talents of Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie for the songs the musical score would have been a masterpiece. Woody did write his own score inspired by watching the film. His "Dust Bowl Ballads" are among the artistic triumphs of the 20th century.
As I write this, there has been rioting in the streets in Argentina and
Brazil, rioting by the African and middle eastern immigrants in France
and here in the US, tens of thousands of the poor remain displaced from
their homes following Hurricane Katrina. A line from one of the best
films of the year, "Secuestro Express," sums up perfectly all these
people's common problem.
"Half the world suffers from malnutrition, the other half from obesity."
Even though it was made 65 years ago, "The Grapes of Wrath" is still relevant today, for the grinding poverty depicted in this film and the struggle to overcome it --in some cases just to survive it --remains today the all consuming battle for a large portion of the world's population.
We should not forget just how controversial John Steinbeck's novel was when it was first published all those years ago. Called socialist propaganda by politicians and branded a pack of lies by the big California farmers, the book went on to achieve great acclaim. Yet it and stories like it will always be lightning rods for controversy because they dare to suggest that what separates the halves and have not's is not always just how hard people are willing to work. Some of those who work the hardest --and there may be no harder work than stoop labor --wind up with the least.
Plenty of good hard work went into the motion picture version of this story of Dust Bowl immigrants of the 1930s trying to start a new life in California.
The film, of course, was the work of some of the best in Hollywood. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, one of the industry's greatest producers, adapted for the screen by Nunally Johnson (Jesse James), photographed by Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane); staring one of the screen's greatest actors, Henry Fonda, backed by a remarkable cast of character actors including Jane Darwell and John Carradine, and helmed by a candidate for the honor of Hollywood's greatest director, John Ford, this film was assembled like a fine Swiss watch, which is probably why it continues to tick today, well over half a century later.
Ford was at the top of his game when he undertook the project and its brimming with his unmatched visuals, thanks to the camera-work of Gregg Toland. From the opening shot of a solitary figure walking down a highway towards a diner, to shots of the Joad family, piled in their jalopy truck, passing through an Indian reservation in New Mexico, to the film's signature shot, as they wind their way through a transient camp outside Bakersfield, California, Ford and Toland use the camera to advance the idea that these are people on an odyssey, a search for a better life in a sometimes beautiful, but often hostile environment. Many directors are capable of making pretty pictures. Ford proves in "Grapes of Wrath" that you can tell a compelling story without a word being spoken.
But like all great movies, from Murnau's "Sunrise" to Coppola's "Godfather," this film is about a lot more than pretty pictures. The movie's words are powerful and haunting and resonate today. When John Qualen, playing the deranged sharecropper, Muley, describes how the Oakies have been pushed off their land by the banks; or when David Hughes playing a discouraged immigrant coming back from California empty handed, gives his dire warning about the perils the travelers face, you cannot help but be moved. And of course, there is Henry Fonda, who delivers his now legendary speech at the movie's end, as he sets out on his own to see what can be done about the plight of the poor. The screen may have never produced a better piece of dialog.
"The Grapes of Wrath" continues to stand today as a landmark of American movie making and a film well worth the time of anyone who wants to try to understand what for much of mankind remains the most important struggle --the struggle for survival..
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Grapes of Wrath" is an inspired, harsh and critical retake on the
Great Depression and its human fall out. While other studios were
producing ultra high glamor and star driven vehicles, Darryl F. Zanuck
chose to turn his spotlight on the crisis of the country and came up
with an all time box office winner. It stars Henry Fonda as the
forgotten man of conscience who is forced to leave his homestead in
search of a hopefully better life that, sadly, is not to be. Jane
Darwell is brilliant as Ma Joad, the defiant, resilient and compelling
matriarch who keeps the family together through these tough times. Dark
was the world of the 1930s in reality, but never was it more magically
brought to life than in this inspirational film of hope, courage and
the dream of prosperity that must have seemed so far out of reach at
the time of the film's general release.
TRANSFER: Previous versions of this film have looked as though they were caught in their own dust bowl. This DVD managed to recapture much of the lost visual style absent in earlier versions. Greg Tolland's evocative camera work is magnificently captured. Black levels are deep. The gray scale, for the most part is well balanced and captures the stark harshness of the original presentation. There are a host of age related artifacts present throughout but these have at least been tempered and do not terribly distract. There is some shimmering of fine details and more than a hint of pixelization in this transfer. Nevertheless, the image quality is an improvement over previous incarnations. Somehow it almost seems to add to the vintage of subject matter of this film. The audio is remixed to 5.1 but really this is a mono film with very little spread or reason for it across your other channels.
BOTTOM LINE: "The Grapes of Wrath" is an enduring tale of enduring souls caught in the uncertainty of their times. But there's no uncertainty about my recommendation of this disc. An absolute must!
Henry Fonda's subtle and moving Tom Joad is one of my all-time top 5 best actor performances. How the Academy chose Jimmy Stewart (The Philadelphia Story) can be summed up in one word, "politics". Stewart was a conservative, Fonda a liberal. It was during a period when the American public feared communism and Fonda was branded a sympathizer by some for his social stances.
Henry Fonda is Tom Joad in 'The Grapes of Wrath', named one of the best American films ever. The director John Ford is one of the greatest of that time and still belongs to the greatest now. His direction is great. Together with the cinematography, by Gregg Toland who became more than famous with Citizen Kane one year later, they create the perfect atmosphere. Fonda is great in his role and you will remember him. Jane Darwell as his mother is great too. All the performances are good, but these are the ones you will remember. Definitely an all-time classic.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) **** Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Dorris Bowden, John Qualen. John Steinbeck's classic American novel about the Great Depression and Dust Bowl dilemmas of the migrant farmer/"Okie" is masterfully adapted by director John Ford (Best Director) who follows the Joad family trek from their ousted Oklahoma to the Promised Land of California. Fonda became a bonafide movie star as stoic yet humane Tom Joad and won an Oscar nomination as the embittered ex-con foraging for his people like Moses. Top notch cast especially Carradine as the Christ-like preacher Casey and Best Supporting Actress Darwell as the determined matriarch.
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