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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At first glance John Ford, a life-long conservative Republican, might seem an odd choice to direct the film of one of the most famous social protest novels in American history. The assignment was a success because Ford approached the novel more from the viewpoint of its human drama than its ideology. There simply isn't a more beautiful black and white film in the American canon. Gregg Toland's cinematography is exquisite; it's no wonder he went on to shoot "Citizen Kane" and "The Best Years of Our Lives." Except for the fact that it uses well-known stars instead of non-professional actors, "The Grapes of Wrath" has in embryonic form all the stylistic hallmarks of Italian neorealism. Henry Fonda gives the performance of his life as Tom Joad, and Jane Darwell won a well-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of Ma Joad, the eternally stoic earth mother who keeps the family together in the face of insurmountable odds. My favorite character, though, is the renegade preacher, Jim Casy, played by John Carradine at the height of his acting career before his eventual slide into grade-Z horror and exploitation movies. The film's depiction of the persecution and oppression the Oakies faced in their epic trek to California is especially relevant in connection with the plight of undocumented workers in present-day America.
...Well, as starkly realistic as Hollywood could get in the 1940's.
Ford's adaptation of Steinbeck's amazing social novel is terrific. The atmosphere of the source material is brilliantly maintained. The thing that impressed me most was that the film wasn't glossed over in the Hollywood studio-style. Yes, there are some omissions in the plot to comply with the Hayes Code, but it's still very dark and realistic. The hungry children rummaging through the waste piles for a sliver of food is shockingly compelling, as are the machines sent out to destroy the farmer's houses, crushing them easily as the onlookers watch in disbelief. It feels authentic.
Henry Fonda is perfectly cast as Tom Joad, the hero of the tale. Fonda's underplaying and sense of the 'everyman' suit his character perfectly. The supporting cast are terrific, and they are not glossed-over, either. Jane Darwell appears to have just jumped off the pages of Steinbeck's epic as Ma Joad. So many families made the journey from the Mid-West to California, the land of supposed 'milk and honey' (which the Joad's find out is not true), but the Joad's struggle feels very personal to us.
Very depressing in content- I had to watch this film in portions simply because it overwhelmed my emotions so completely. But the Great Depression was an awful event in America's history, and it's portrayed so accurately here. Students should watch this at school to realize how lucky they've got it now, and how dangerous it would be to fall into a recession once again (it would be different now, but still have the same effect on morale). This is draining to watch, but ultimately uplifting. Ford's direction is always convincing; Steinbeck's great work is in fine hands. The black-and-white photography emphasises the bleakness and realism.
Evicted from there land in Oklahoma, victimized by the double whammy of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, the Joad family loads up their dilapidated truck and makes the journey to California, joining thousands of others in the westward migration, seeking work as pickers in the California groves. John Ford doesn't let us forget what it's like to be destitute as the film details the belittling attitudes they endure at every stop along the way, eating away at whatever pride they have left. And when the torturous journey claims the life of Noah Joad (Frank Sully), the eldest of the family, his haunting and memorable burial along the side of the road provides one of the film's most riveting scenes. Clear social and economic distinctions, police brutality, Red baiting, blatant injustice, and the glimmer of hope offered by the New Deal are all mixed up to make this epic saga of an American family.
As a film of the 1940's, the Grapes of Wrath does a wonderful thing. It
shows us humanity in only the way that someone like John Ford could show it.
Primarily known as a director of westerns, Ford helms this project with all
the love and care you'd expect from someone entrusted with such a great and
beloved work of American Literature.
Even seen as a bit dated, the film harkens back to a time in American History when the government was literally throwing people off their land just so they (the government) could have more and more room for agriculture and farming purposes. So, the Joad family like millions of other families in the midst of the Great Depression flees to California. They do this simply because they believe that work, not to mention a better life will be found there. However, once they arrive in California the Joads begin to see just how wrong they were with so many of their assumptions.
This has to be the definitive Henry Fonda film. Fonda plays Tom Joad with sort of an everyman type of quality. However, Fonda lost the Best Actor Oscar to James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. The Grapes of Wrath received two statuettes that year, Best Supporting Actress for Jane Darwell's iconic portrayal of Ma Joad, the undeviating strength at the core of the Joad clan and Best Director for John Ford (his second Oscar after 1935's The Informer). The Grapes of Wrath was also nominated in the categories of Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Recording, losing in all three instances. The film lost Best Picture to Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca.
All in all, this is an important piece in a director's legacy of great films. John Ford would follow The Grapes of Wrath with Oscar wins for both 1941's How Green Was My Valley and 1952's The Quiet Man, not to mention what I consider his greatest film ever, 1956's The Searchers with John Wayne.
My rating: 2 and a half stars
Yes, it's a book I think we all had to read in a High school English
but that doesn't mean it's bad.
This movie was used in a sociology class I took in college, and I instantly fell in love with it. It's a great story, with a great cast. It's a bit dated in it's style, but it really overcomes it's shortcomings. Check it out!
It was Fonda's alliance with John Ford that enabled him to kick start his career in superstardom status. John Ford, as he did with John Wayne, seemed to lift Fonda's career to another level by documenting the story of the American west on screen. It's not surprising that Fonda, Wayne, and even James Stewart paid a tribute to him in a documentary in the 60's.
Henry Fonda at his absolute best as paroled "Young Tom Joad" 60 years ago.
A classic. A classic tale of the American style caste system - the wealthy
attempting to remain so. And the masses driven from Oklahoma to what is
believed to be a "Promised Land" in search of greener pastures. Yet finding
only continued class struggle more so than was EVER to be found in
Oklahoma. As stated - poverty and laziness being automatically synonymous.
ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE! I would highly recommend "Grapes of Wrath" for those who are inclined to believe so.
The leitmotifs in both the cinematography and the film score are second to none. For a nonfictional depiction of this era, see _The Plow that Broke the Plains_, 1936, a USDA documentary which attempted to explain the Dustbowl to its embattled victims. Even more than _Triumph of the Will_, it served as THE model for American documentary filmmakers for several decades thereafter.
The look of this movie feels real. It's like looking at actual photographs
of people during the Depression and there are scenes of great emotional
intensity because of this authentic strength. The film often casts a magic
spell. But then the actors start staring off into space and making their
weepy speeches and the spell is broken and it's just another movie
melodrama. Jane Darwell can seem especially sappy.
The film is never boring, though. My favorite scene is where officials attempt to crash a dance party. John Ford really knows how to tell a story to build tension in both plot and character. The cinematographer Gregg Toland was at the top of his powers.
This is regularly regarded as one of the great movies but I think another Ford movie that was released the same year, The Long Voyage Home, is actually better. ***1/2 out of ****
After watching this movie many times on TV, we've been puzzled by the character named "Noah", played by Frank Sully. He is last seen with the men in the river after finally getting to California (he's playing with a toy boat). But that's the last time he's seen in the movie, with no explanation as to his disappearance from the movie from this point, and no reference made to him from this point onward. What happens to this character, and how and why does he just "disappear" without explanation?
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