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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?
Besides entertaining, the motion picture can educate, inspire, or raise
awareness about important issues occurring or having occurred in the
"The Grapes of Wrath" is a film about the Great Depression. We don't learn
much about it from the film, but the film's quality does something just as
good, it raises the viewer's curiosity about it, and he is inspired to
it up. What caused it? How widespread was it? Did anyone actually starve
death because of it? If so, how many? How did it end, i.e. what was the
solution to conjure up its demise?
Many films have been made about the Great Depression. This is one of the best. It is based on the novel by John Steinbeck (who also wrote "Of Mice and Men" and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962), "The Grapes of Wrath" was nominated for the Best Picture of 1940 by the American Motion Picture Academy (Hitchcock's "Rebecca" won).
Henry Fonda gives the performance of a lifetime as a young man who has returned from jail to discover that his family's spirit has been crushed from their loss of land and home. They come across a flyer advertising 800 agricultural jobs in California and decide to head out west. Unfortunately, thousands of people responded in the same way to the add. Rather than hire only the manpower needed, the abusive employers hired all they could but cut their wages lower than what was required for survival.
The Great Depression's desolation both in the environment and in the spirit of the people is effectively re-created. The characters were memorable with their weak command of English. "Grandpa" was a hoot. This is a classic. 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the movie was still controversial for its time, it was too
censored to fully convey Steinbeck's message. The movie reorganized the
scenes so that instead of the Joads going from Hoovervilles to the
government camp (Weed Patch) to the boxcars they went from Hoovervilles
to the Ranch to the government camp (Wheat Patch). They changed the
order in the movie and took the hard-hitting tragedy of the book and
made it into the feel-good-movie-of-the-year. This censorship happened
with many scenes in the movie. The Joads, in the book, ended by fleeing
from flooding boxcars to the sanctuary of a damp barn while in the
movie they leave a clean, nice government camp to go get 20 days worth
of work while driving off into the sunset. The movie also completely
leaves out the ending of the book where Rose of Sharon gives birth to a
stillborn baby and then has to flee with some of the family to a barn
to get out of the "wet". When they reach the barn she nurses an old man
dying of malnutrition. This is a very powerful ending that was
completely written out.
Another major criticism I have for this movie is the lack of emotion and connection. When grandma and grandpa die in the movie, the audience feels nothing; there was no emotional connection between the audience and the characters. I also feel that by leaving out the land and by not connecting the land with the people we lose a crucial part of the story. Not once in the movie do we see a peach.
The censorship of the movie destroyed Steinbeck's message. The book has a strong message of community, working together and building relationships to get through hard times. Steinbeck's way of saying this was "I" turning into "we" and if the "we" didn't form than everyone would fail. The movies message was that the Joads "are the people" and the people live on and that they were winning because they were still surviving.
I do understand that if the movie wasn't censored it would never have been produced but I feel that if you cannot do a novel like The Grapes of Wrath justice then don't try.
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 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..
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.
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