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The Grapes of Wrath Movie Review

joad ford john family

1940 – John Ford –

Many big-budget epics organize themselves around a series of set pieces that usually showcase special effects. Based on Steinbeck's novel, this epic of the common man organizes itself around some of the milestones in the life of the Joad family. In the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma during the Depression, countless families are dispossessed by bank foreclosures. Imprisoned for killing a man in self-defense, Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) is paroled when his family is about to begin a journey to California in the hope of finding work. Director John Ford and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson dramatize the milestones that mark the Joad's passage from the life they have known to an uncertain future: the reunion of Tom with his family, the burial of the grandfather on the journey (one of many such graveside scenes that Ford loved), the difficulty of crossing the desert. In one of the most eloquent of these scenes, Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) examines the contents in her box of keepsakes. She has saved the newspaper clipping about Tom's imprisonment. She smiles at the toy dog she has kept from the St. Louis World's Fair, and in a shard from a old mirror we see her reflection holding two earrings to the sides of her face in the darkened cabin as the family loads their dilapidated truck.

What starts as a quest by one family turns into a story of all displaced humanity. The Joads finally get to California, but like their fellow transients they continually come up against authority figures who bully and demean them. These small-time bureaucrats exploit the working masses with take-it-or-leave-it fruit-picking jobs, coldhearted indifference, and starvation wages. The workers are torn between looking out for their own concerns and banding together to help one another. In one transient camp, Tom scares off hungry kids who gather around the Joad's pot of food, but Ma Joad feeds her family first and then offers the rest to the others. Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland filmed the scenes of the tractors plowing over the Oakies' houses in ways that depersonalize the representatives of officialdom. Toland's shots of the transient camps approximate the authenticity of contemporary photographs by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. The clean, democratic government camp the Joads find in the final scenes brightens the tone, but the film still remains focused on the persistent questions of self-interest versus brotherly love. Ford steeps his film in a genuine love of community. Until people realize that they have more uniting them than dividing them, the film implies, one of the greatest civilizing resources of all will remain untapped.

Cast: Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), Jane Darwell (Ma Joad), John Carradine (Reverend Jim Casy), Charley Grapewin (Grandpa Joad), Dorris Bowdon (Rose of Sharon), Russell Simpson (Pa Joad), O.Z. Whitehead (Al), John Qualen (Muley Graves), Eddie Quillan (Connie), Zeffie Tilbury (Gramma), Irving Bacon (Roy, conductor), Trevor Bardette (Jule), Ward Bond (Policeman), Charles D. Brown (Wilkie), Frank Darien (Uncle John) Screenwriter: Nunnally Johnson Cinematographer: Gregg Toland Composer: Alfred Newman Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck for Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 128 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1940: Director (John Ford), Actress (Jane Darwell); Nominations: Actor (Henry Fonda), Editing, Picture, Screenplay, Sound, Score; National Board of Review Awards, 1940: Ten Best Films of the Year; New York Film Critics Awards, 1940: Director (John Ford), Film.

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