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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath, is an artful depiction of the
contemporary book. Utilizing much advanced technology and
film-technique for its time, the movie was revolutionary in its
cinematic grandeur. However, Nunnally Johnson, author of the
screenplay, strayed from the path Steinbeck had purposely traveled down
with his storyline. While the film still includes some of the
fundamental values and scenes that make the book one of the best
historical pieces of fiction, the omission and reversing of certain
scenes may leave avid viewers enamored with the original story feeling
a sense of dissatisfaction. The movie ends with the superficial "riding
off into the sunset" ending which implies that all is well or will be
down the road (no pun intended!); however, this is counter to
Steinbeck's artfully crafted ending.
Perhaps the largest mistake made by director Tom Ford and writer Nunnally Johnson was the reversal of stops the Joad family made along their journey after their final arrival in the supposedly-plentiful land of California. The decision to make the government camp the last seen stop for the family sends out a blatant pro-government message, which at the time served as propaganda to rally support for the government in its Dust Bowl-related reforms. With the reversal of the sequence of the Joads' stops, the movie is not a precise display of the story that captures the essence of the novel: the hardships and obstacles of exodus, and the importance of family, community, and perseverance to find a home in a foreign land. However, keeping in mind the standards of controversy in this time, the original ending in the book would have been too racy for a movie. With that in mind, the ending is not as disappointing.
Furthermore, Grapes of Wrath remains a thought-provoking film that serves as a great culturally enlightening experience for those looking to gain insight on the Oakie migrations and pushing out towards the great American Frontier. After getting over the initial disappointment of the movie-produced happy ending, viewers can appreciate the believable historical setting and the development of the characters created by John Steinbeck in his original work. Overall, Grapes of Wrath is a movie that should be seen with an open mind and probably, without comparison to the book.