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The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Classics movie directed by John Ford

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John Ford + John Steinbeck = Amazing

  • Jan 22, 2007
  • by
"Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."

The history of the Dustbowl Era is one that looms large in the minds of most of my family. The mere fact that some of us were born in Washington to people that came from Kansas and Oklahoma explains volumes about what it must've been like in those places back in the day when you could have a wonderful crop one year, and the next year you could be turned out of your house and home.

John Ford's 1940 film version of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" is a flim like none other. Listed on many critics film lists as the best ever made, at least prior to "Citizen Kane" showing up in that position starting in the late 1950's, it tells the story of the Joad family, uprooted from their home in Oklahoma and sent hurtling into a new life in California.

As the family travels to California, they deal with many setbacks, including the deaths of two of their clan. When they finally reach California, they find that a glut of cheap labor has led to depressed wages, meaning that for a whole day's work they earn barely enough to scrape by.

Eventually after many trials and tribulations, the family reaches a camp run by the government (with a camp superintendent played by a man who actually did run such a camp in reality). There the family finds a safe place to live, decent wages, and a hopeful future... at least until the past catches up with one family member.

While Henry Fonda plays the protaganist in this movie, the real stand-out star is Jane Darwell, who played Ma Joad. From her first real scene, where she expresses concerns her son might've turned "mean" while in prison, to a touching farewell to her possessions when she tosses them into a stove before leaving, to the end, where she has one last dance with her son then gets the last words in the film (those at the start of the article), every moment she's on the screen is incredible. It's a movie worth seeing for performance alone. Women like her are, to a great extent, what this country is built on.

This was also a very political film. It was one of the first films to show poverty, true, soul-crushing poverty, in the United States. Most of are fortunate enough not to know what it's like to nearly starve to death (heck, put all the family together and we'd start to influence the tides), but in the not-so-distant past people were starving, dying, on the streets of our nation. Not because they were lazy, or foolish, but because they were being destroyed by a system that had left them to fend for themselves.

It also explored, somewhat obliquely, ideas of Communism that were floating around at the time. There was a large, simmering, vocal minority that believed only Communism could save the workers of the world from exploitation at the hands of big business. Looking at the way the world was then, one begins to sypathise.

All in all, this is a very personal film that's also quite epic. You see the sweeping panoramas for which Ford is rightly famous, but then you also get the small strokes, the tiny personal touches, such as when the children see flush toilets for the first time. It's a must-see for anyone interested in history, and anyone interested in film.

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More The Grapes of Wrath (1940) reviews
review by . April 02, 2011
  The Grapes of Wrath is set in Oklahoma around the thirties, during the dust bowl and the great depression. The film begins with our tale's hero, Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), just being released from jail, and heading home to find his family. Once he gets there he only finds an old beat up house, and he is informed that his family is fixing to leave for California. They all have a happy reunion right before Tom and the rest of the family depart for California; However, once the Joad family …
Quick Tip by . August 10, 2010
I would give this movie a ten if there were that many stars. Henry Fonda was a great actor and perfect in this role. (Sorry to say I missed the other movies based on Steinbeck's books and missed reading some of his classics too. B xo
review by . January 26, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Good adaptation of Steinbeck's superb novel. The Joad family were farmers in Oklahoma (referred to as Okies) during the "Dust Bowl" years when drought caused a lot of farmers to lose everything.     There are promised work in California and pack up their dilapadated truck with their family including the grandmother (I wonder if the idea for The Beverly Hillbillies came from this) and have a grueling trip there. When they arrive they are treated like "slaves," not even paid enough …
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C R Swanson ()
Ranked #59
   I'm an aspiring writer and reviewer. I run a blog, I'm working on a novel and spend my free time reading and playing video games. I also spend waaaaay too much time and money on movies. … more
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Ranking No. 21 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films, this 1940 classic is a bit dated in its noble sentimentality, but it remains a luminous example of Hollywood classicism from the peerless director of mythic Americana, John Ford. Adapted by Nunnally Johnson from John Steinbeck's classic novel, the film tells a simple story about Oklahoma farmers leaving the depression-era dustbowl for the promised land of California, but it's the story's emotional resonance and theme of human perseverance that makes the movie so richly and timelessly rewarding. It's all about the humble Joad family's cross-country trek to escape the economic devastation of their ruined farmland, beginning when Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) returns from a four-year prison term to discover that his family home is empty. He's reunited with his family just as they're setting out for the westbound journey, and thus begins an odyssey of saddening losses and strengthening hopes. As Ma Joad, Oscar-winner Jane Darwell is the embodiment of one of America's greatest social tragedies and the "Okie" spirit of pressing forward against all odds (as she says, "because we're the people"). A documentary-styled production for which Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland demanded painstaking authenticity,The Grapes of Wrathis much more than a classy, old-fashioned history lesson. With dialogue and scenes that rank among the most moving and memorable ever filmed, it's a classic among classics--simply...
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Director: John Ford
Genre: Classics
DVD Release Date: April 6, 2004
Runtime: 128 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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