The Joad clan, introduced to the world in John Steinbeck's iconic novel, is looking for a better life in California. After their drought-ridden farm is seized by the bank, the family -- led by just-paroled son Tom -- loads up a truck and heads West. On the road, beset by hardships, the Joads meet dozens of other families making the same trek and holding onto the same dream. Once in California, however, the Joads soon realize that the promised land isn't quite what they hoped.Written by
John Ford treated Dorris Bowdon quite badly. It may have been because she was the girlfriend of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and was given the part by Darryl F. Zanuck, or it may simply have been one of Ford's frequent unexplainable dislikes, but he hounded the young actress on every point, from coming on the set with her hair improperly done to taking time to have her hair fixed. Shortly before filming the scene of the dance at the government camp, Jane Darwell expressed her nervousness to Bowdon about "being such a fat old lady and I have to dance and say lines at the same time." When Darwell did the entire take perfectly, Bowdon spontaneously broke into applause, launching a tirade from Ford that made her run from the set crying. The next shooting day, Ford rather awkwardly cheered her up with a little bawdy humor, and the two got on well after that, although she later said, "I was glad I never had to work with him again." Yet, Bowdon in later life also expressed the duality of feelings actors often had for the difficult director when she related a story about how he painstakingly talked her through a very emotional moment that she ended up nailing in a single take. "He was a superb director," she said. "I never saw another director work in a way that was as skilled." See more »
Tom Joad's semi-retarded brother, Noah, vanishes after the swimming-in-the-river sequence. In the book, Noah believes he's a burden on the family and runs away. In the film, no explanation is given for his disappearance. See more »
[the family is leaving the farm, heading for California]
Ain't you gonna look back, Ma? Give the ol' place a last look?
We're going' to California, ain't we? All right then let's go to California.
That don't sound like you, Ma. You never was like that before.
I never had my house pushed over before. Never had my family stuck out on the road. Never had to lose everything I had in life.
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International distributions (e.g. UK) have a short ~30 second prologue at the beginning to explain the historical context to the story to touch on the socio-economic problems in the US which arose during the Great Depression and the concurrent Dust Bowl. See more »
John Ford's stark portrayal of a poor family in the depression remains one of the most moving films in history.
The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joad family, who are run off of their land in Oklahoma because of drought and poverty. I think that one of the most striking elements of this movie is the black and white cinematography. Obviously, there wasn't a lot of variation on this particular subject in 1940, but especially today, the lack of color enhances the feelings of poverty and desperation and emptiness due to the family's loss of their home. In this way, because it would not be nearly as noticeable in 1940 as it is today, this time-enhanced effect of the black and white film stock has allowed for the film's impact to actually grow with time.
Henry Fonda plays the part of Tom Joad, a young member of the family who is released from prison at the beginning of the film, only to find that his family has been driven from their home and is staying at his uncle's house until they can figure out what to do about their sudden homelessness. It is by pure coincidence that Tom was released early on good behavior, otherwise he may very well never have seen his family again. He finds them in a state of near desperation, as they begin more and more to realize the predicament that they are in. Their trek across half of the country, on their way to California to assume jobs that they've heard about, provides for a substantial portion of the plot and is extremely well-structured.
The family encounters every hardship imaginable on this journey, from family members dying to their struggle to feed themselves to their rickety old truck constantly breaking down. They run into disillusioned people who claim that they've been to California and there are really no jobs there, at least not nearly as many as there are people going to look for them. They are periodically and derogatorily referred to as `Okies,' a term which places them in a broad category of poor folks driven from there homes in middle America who are traveling to the coast to get jobs that aren't there. There is so much doubt and hardship presented that it is never really certain whether they really will find jobs. The audience is never able to assume a happy ending, because there is so much contrary foreshadowing throughout the film.
The struggles do not abate once the family reaches California and takes up shaky residence in residential areas that would be more accurately referred to as shanty towns, and the rest of the film is dominated by the family's efforts to survive in a new and unfamiliar place, while working for wages that are barely sufficient to prevent starvation. Ma Joad spends the majority of the film stressing the importance of keeping the family together, seeing it as the only thing that they really had left, but this is eventually set aside in favor of each member of the family not only surviving but also flourishing, which provides for one of the many powerful messages that the film delivers.
The Grapes of Wrath is not exactly an edge of your seat film, but it is a shockingly realistic portrayal of the suffering that so many people and families experienced during the Great Depression. The performances are flawless, and the experience is not only powerful and moving but also educational. It's no secret that most people do not watch movies to learn, but there comes a point, at least once in a great while, when a person should watch a film that requires a little mental thought processing, and in such cases, The Grapes of Wrath is an excellent choice.
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