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The Grapes of Wrath

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Grapes of Wrath

Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell
Director: John Ford
Rated: NR
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: March 1940
Genres: Drama, Classic

*Also starring: John Carradine, Dorris Bowden, Charley Grapewin, John Qualen, Russell Simpson, O.Z. Whitehead, Eddie Quillan, Zeffie Tilbury

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 system.

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

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