Review by Brian Koller|
3½ stars out of 4
"The Grapes of Wrath" tells the story of the Joads,
a displaced Oklahoman sharecropper family, and one of
many forced to abandon their lands due to the Dust Bowl
and the Great Depression. Based on the Pulitzer Prize
winning novel by John Steinbeck, the film succeeds in
depicting the poverty, to the extent of starvation, of
the homeless Okies. There are other messages as well:
the difficulty in maintaining a family in the face of
adversity, the low value placed on the lives of migrant
farm workers, and the injustices of the capitalist
Let me explain that last remark. "The Grapes of Wrath"
is a pro-socialist film. Socialism was at its zenith
during the Great Depression, when it seemed that capitalism
may have failed. Franklin Roosevelt was a socialist
President, and the poor saw Big Government as a lifeline
from their jobless despair. "The Grapes of Wrath"
condemns the faceless banks for foreclosing on the Okies,
the agricultural growers for cheating their low-paid
workers, and local police forces for their brutality
and affiliation with the capitalists. When the Joads
finally arrive at a Government-run camp, it is as if
they have reached heaven.
Fresh from his success with "Stagecoach", John Ford
directed "The Grapes of Wrath", and almost deserved his
Best Director Academy Award (I think Hitchcock should
have won for "Rebecca"). The black and white cinematography
by Gregg Toland is excellent, with extraordinary footage
of the deep poverty of the migrant worker camps.
Henry Fonda stars as Tom Joad, a hot-tempered ex-con
who returns to his family just in time to join it on
a desperate job-hunting expedition to California.
Jane Darwell gives an excellent performance as his
mother, who tries to hold the dissolving family together
as matters go from bad to worse. John Carradine
plays a colorful, half-mad preacher.
Fonda was nominated for Best Actor, and Darwell won
Best Supporting Actress. "The Grapes of Wrath" was
nominated for Best Picture, and Nunnally Johnson was
nominated for Best Screenplay. Johnson did a
reasonable job in distilling the lengthy novel into
a filmable version, changing the ending and jumbling
the chronology to soften the novel's pessimistic message.
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller