157 of 170 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2004
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loos'd the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword, His truth is marching on." - Battle Hymn of the Republic.
In 1936, John Steinbeck wrote a series of articles about the migrant workers driven to California from the Midwestern states after losing their homes in the throes of the depression: inclement weather, failed crops, land mortgaged to the hilt and finally taken over by banks and large corporations when credit lines ran dry. Lured by promises of work aplenty, the Midwesterners packed their belongings and trekked westward to the Golden State, only to find themselves facing hunger, inhumane conditions, contempt and exploitation instead. "Dignity is all gone, and spirit has turned to sullen anger before it dies," Steinbeck described the result in one of his 1936 articles, collectively published as "The Harvest Gypsies;" and in another piece ("Starvation Under the Orange Trees," 1938) he asked: "Must the hunger become anger and the anger fury before anything will be done?"
By the time he wrote the latter article, Steinbeck had already published one novel addressing the agricultural laborers' struggle against corporate power ("In Dubious Battle," 1936). Shortly thereafter he began to work on "The Grapes of Wrath," which was published roughly a year later. Although the book would win the Pulitzer Prize (1940) and become a cornerstone foundation of Steinbeck's Literature Nobel Prize (1962), it was sharply criticized upon its release - nowhere more so than in the Midwest - and still counts among the 35 books most frequently banned from American school curricula: A raw, brutally direct, yet incredibly poetic masterpiece of fiction, it continues to touch nerves deeply rooted in modern society's fabric; including and particularly in California, where yesterday's Okies are today's undocumented Mexicans - Chicano labor leader Cesar Chavez especially pointed out how well he could empathize with the Joad family, because he and his fellow workers were now living the same life they once had.
Having fought hard with his publisher to maintain the novel's uncompromising approach throughout, Steinbeck was weary to give the film rights to 20th Century Fox, headed by powerful mogul and, more importantly, known conservative Daryl F. Zanuck. Yet, Zanuck and director John Ford largely stayed true to the novel: There is that sense of desperation in farmer Muley's (John Qualen's) expression as he tells Tom and ex-preacher Casy (Henry Fonda and John Carradine) how the "cats" came and bulldozed down everybody's homes, on behalf of a corporate entity too intangible to truly hold accountable. There is Grandpa Joad (Charley Grapewin), literally clinging to his earth and dying of a stroke (or, more likely, a broken heart) when he is made to leave against his will. There is everybody's brief joy upon first seeing Bakersfield's rich plantations - everybody's except Ma Joad's (Jane Darwell's), that is, who alone knows that Grandma (Zeffie Tilbury) died in her arms before they even started to cross the Californian desert the previous night. There is the privately-run labor camps' utter desolation, complete with violent guards, exploitative wages, lack of food and unsanitary conditions; contrasted with the relative security and more humane conditions of the camps run by the State. And there is Tom's crucial development from a man acting alone to one seeing the benefit of joining efforts in a group, following Casy's example, and his parting promise to Ma that she'll find him everywhere she looks - wherever there is injustice, struggle, and people's joint success. In an overall outstanding cast, which also includes Dorris Bowdon (Rose of Sharon), Eddie Quillan (Rose's boyfriend Connie), Frank Darien (Uncle John) and a brief appearance by Ward Bond as a friendly policeman, Henry Fonda truly shines as Tom; despite his smashing good looks fully metamorphosized into Steinbeck's quick-tempered, lanky, reluctant hero.
Yet, in all its starkness the movie has a more optimistic slant than the novel; due to a structural change which has the Joads moving from bad to acceptable living conditions (instead of vice versa), the toning down of Steinbeck's political references - most importantly, the elimination of a monologue using a land owner's description of "reds" as anybody "that wants thirty cents and hour when we're payin' twenty-five" to show that under the prevalent conditions that definition applies to virtually *every* migrant laborer - and a greater emphasis on Ma Joad's pragmatic, forward-looking way of dealing with their fate; culminating in her closing "we's the people" speech (whose direction, interestingly, Ford, who would have preferred to end the movie with the image of Tom walking up a hill alone in the distance, left to Zanuck himself). Jane Darwell won a much-deserved Academy-Award for her portrayal as Ma; besides John Ford's Best Director award the movie's only winner on Oscar night - none of its other five nominations scored, unfortunately including those in the Best Picture and Best Leading Actor categories, which went to Hitchcock's "Rebecca" and James Stewart ("The Philadelphia Story") instead. Still, despite its critical success - also expressed in a "Best Picture" National Board of Review award - and its marginally optimistic outlook, the movie engendered almost as much controversy as did Steinbeck's book. After the witch hunt setting in not even a decade later, today it stands as one of the last, greatest examples of a movie pulling no punches in the portrayal of society's ailments; a type of film regrettably rare in recent years.
"Ev'rybody might be just one big soul - well it looks that-a way to me. ... Wherever men are fightin' for their rights, that's where I'm gonna be, ma. That's where I'm gonna be." - Woody Guthrie, "The Ballad of Tom Joad."
"The highway is alive tonight, but nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes. I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light, with the ghost of old Tom Joad." - Bruce Springsteen, "The Ghost of Tom Joad."
John Steinbeck : Novels and Stories, 1932-1937 : The Pastures of Heaven / To a God Unknown / Tortilla Flat / In Dubious Battle / Of Mice and Men (Library of America)
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings 1936-1941: The Grapes of Wrath, The Harvest Gypsies, The Long Valley, The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Library of America)
Steinbeck Novels 1942-1952: The Moon Is Down / Cannery Row / The Pearl / East of Eden (Library of America)
John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley and Later Novels 1947-1962: The Wayward Bus / Burning Bright / Sweet Thursday / The Winter of Our Discontent (Library of America)
America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction (Penguin Classics)
John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography
East of Eden (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Of Mice & Men
The Ox-Bow Incident
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2004
It's striking how many reviewers here base their comments on a simplisitic comparison between the film version of "The Grapes of Wrath" and the Steinbeck novel on which it was based. For many such a comparison seems to function simply as an excuse to proclaim the inherent superiority of the Steinbeck original--and, by extension, the superiority of their own literary taste values-- when all it really does is highlight the patent silliness of trying to pit different artforms into some sort of evaluative competition. Literature and cinema are two vastly different modes of representation each with their own strengths and limitations, so the framing question shouldn't be which version of "The Grapes of Wrath" is "better"--as if there were a universal yardstick with which to measure such things--but rather how do they perform in terms of their respective mediums? On that count, I think we are extraordinarily fortunate with both the Steinbeck and Ford versions of "The Grapes of Wrath" to have two masterworks that operate consummately at the peak of their respective artforms. What each does well, it does brilliantly. As a verbal medium that unfolds slowly, literature is good at offering rich, layered descriptions of person and place and mapping complicated narrative links and Steinbeck makes the most of this in his novel. Cinema, by contrast, is an expressive medium that works best through registers of visual and aural metaphor, allegory and performance...and it's on this ground that I think the film version of "The Grapes of Wrath" more than merits its classic status. It is a magnificently "cinematic" film that uses the expressive capacities of the medium to produce a richly layered experience that is truly moving and that lingers long afterward, sometimes for years or even a whole lifetime. I first saw "The Grapes of Wrath" on TV one rainy afternoon in my childhood and it left indelible impressions that have impelled me to go back to the film time and again: The haunted eyes of Jane Darwell's Ma Joad as she sits in the truck cabin, lit from beneath, driving into an uncertain future, the winds of history howling oustside; the terrifying collision montage as the monstrous "cats" move in to destroy the Okies' homes; the soulless gas station attendants, standing together in uniforms like corporatized automata, muttering that the Joads are too miserable to be human. It's a film dense with iconic richness and an enduring testament both to the artistry of the many workers that created it, and to the democratic spirit of popular cinema at its very best.
66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2002
This is it! This is the movie to show to your preteen children to give them an understanding of what it means to struggle for something, for the barest of necessities.
John Steinbeck and John Ford did America proud, allowing us to look inward to discover solutions for our social problems. As a country we would do well to do the same again.
Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) and Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) are the central characters of this film, but many other, richly defined, roles can be found here. The young husband who deserts his wife because he's ashamed that he can't provide for her ... the waitress whose, somewhat hardened, heart is softened by the plight of the Joads ... the Grandfather who dreams of California and eating grapes while their juice runs down his chin ... the grieving father warning the Joads of the hard times ahead in California ... and who can forget the family friend who refuses to leave Oklahoma, and slides further and further into insanity as his entire community disappears.
Each secondary member of the cast has something invaluable to add to the story and the standout is the great John Carradine as the disillusioned, x-preacher, Casey. It is Casey who helps Tom to recognize the injustice in their 'migrant' world, and Casey who provides the supreme sacrifice and catalyst for Tom's promised future of being "there" for the little guy.
Yes, this movie can fall victim to overt sentimentalism, but the underlying feeling of injustice is probably the main 'character' in the story. While it's overall theme can be depressing, you can't help but smile when Ma Joad says "We're the people that live."
I absolutely love this movie, I think you will too.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2008
This is a very moving, touching movie that ages very well. The issues covered here like perseverence against great odds, family values, corrupt police and government officials and social divide are still so relevant today. I've not read the book but this movie has made me want to go to the library and borrow it. The movie is more than 2 hours long and yet it's so good that you don't feel it as the Joad family makes its long journey cross country from Oklahoma to California looking for a way to survive from day to day. The acting was superb and so was the directing but the only thing I didn't like was this DVD version. The sound quality was average and despite the visual restoration, there were still many imperfections. Perhaps a Blu-Ray version with better sound and visual quality will be soon released. I enjoyed the special features on the flip side of the disc which had reel-life (pun intended) news clips from the actual reports of the great drought of the 1930s and especially the Biography of Darryl F. Zannuck which was very good.
Contentwise, this is an excellent movie but this DVD version can be improved soundwise and picturewise.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This is a review of the new BD of the classic film "The Grapes of Wrath".
First off, when reading reviews of this title be aware that Amazon has a policy of grouping ALL reviews of ALL versions of a film, whether DVD, Blu-ray (and even VHS). So if you are looking for a review of the Bluray, sort reviews by date (with most current first). That should help guide you.
With that said, this is a review of the single-disc BD released on June 5, 2012.
"The Grapes of Wrath" (TGOW) is a classic film and one that everyone should see. It's re-release by Fox is timely as much of the US is still in a recession and unemployment is high. There are many folks re-locating from their homes (if they haven't been evicted already) looking for work. If you want to know more about the film and its plot, there are over 160 reviews here that will provide that info. So I'll concentrate on the BD release, it's special features and not on the film itself.
TGOW was filmed in black and white in a standard format of 1.33:1 so no matter what screen aspect your TV has the image will be virtually square. Even on an older non-flat screen TV the image does not fill the screen but has thick black border on all sides. Direct John Ford used dark images (and lots of great shadows) to tell the story and , though the BD image is brighter than previous releases, it show the graininess of the film. I also noted in the early scenes that the brightness would waiver, but I got used to it as I concentrated on the story.
The BD has, as special features, a commentary track (same as on previous DVD release) that I did not listen to, a series of short Fox Movietone newsreels about the dust bowl and the Academy Award presentation to actress Jane Darwell (who won the award for Best Actress but is not even given recognition by name on the package despite a fabulous performance) totally about 8-minutes. There is also a 25-minute piece from the Fox Legacy TV show (on Fox of course) with Tom Rothman. I tried to get into it but Rothman is - frankly - not a good speaker and I found a bit too pompous for my tastes. Despite playing with the Display Aspect control on my BD player, I found that the excerpts from the film that were included in Rothman's piece, were out of "ratio" and the image was "squished". I'm not sure how this plays on other TVs. The BD also gives you the option of watching the film with the "forward" included in the British release, which the producers decided was necessary to explain the economic conditions in the US to the British theater audience. A nice touch for completeness. The last bonus is an A&E episode on Producer Daryl F. Zanuck (that I haven't gotten to yet.).
Having read a few other reviews of the DVD version here, it appears that the DVD version has a sharper image than the BD, despite a few more dark spots. I can't tell if the images in the bonuses are any different as I only have the BD.
So, while I generally would turn to a BD version over the DVD version, I think in this case there is more reason to get the DVD than the BD. But, if you haven't seen this film before, with great acting by Henry Fonda and Darwell, then get it in either version. Just get it.
My rating is a bit skewed. The film gets five stars (I love it), the bonuses three stars (it's OK) and formatting between 3 and 4 stars.
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, "The Grapes of Wrath" is the story of an Oklahoma family moving to California during the Great Depression. They move to California to find better work and jobs, only to find that there s little opportunity. The family goes through rough times, but they hold together because they know that they can preserver.
"The Grapes of Wrath" is a very well made movie. The acting is superb from all sides. I didn't notice any melodramatics from anyway, though there might be an occasion or two. The only other problem I had with them movie was some occasional slowdown. But I don't mind, because I'm not one of those people who expect excitement every second.
Henry Fonda is great as Tom Joad. A convict out on parole, he goes with his family to California. Some experiences along the way help to change him and make him a better person. He soon realizes that people are more important and vows to devote his help to those who need it more and to those who aren't as fortunate. He got an Oscar nomination,
But was unsuccessful. The film also got a Best Picture nomination, but lost to "Rebecca", the first American film of Alfred Hitchcock (Then again, I've rarely agreed with the Academy). Jane Darwell, however, won Best Supporting Actress as Ma Joad, the "emotional anchor" of the family, and Director John Ford picked up is second award. He would also win one the following year to "How Green Was My Valley" and in 1952 for "The Quiet Man".
Another of the film's best virtues is in the cinematography. There is usage of low angle shots in interior scenes (Rare in movies at this time because that's where the equipment was placed) and deep focus in several scenes (Where everything in the scene is focused in). If it looks familiar, that's because it was done by Gregg "Citizen Kane" Toland.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Take John Steinbeck's Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Novel. Turn it into a movie and let John Ford direct it, and get Henry Fonda to star. In 1940 you could hardly find a more certain recipe for a cinema classic.
As good as the film is, it really should be a companion-piece to Steinbeck's original masterpiece, and if you haven't read it I recommend setting aside enough time to read one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written.
That being said, the medium of the cinema allows for a visual impact that can't be matched with the written word.
The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family during the great depression. That period of economic hardship hit the farmers in Oklahoma a little harder than the rest of the world, at the time of the dust bowl the "Okies" were at the end of their ropes, financially speaking.
Thousands of Okies packed up the house after being foreclosed and moved out to California - many winding up around Bakersfield, at the California end of old US Route 66. (Merle Haggard's family did so and the "Okie from Muscogee" wrote about it in songs like "California Cottonfields".)
Anyway, this is the historical context of the movie. The theme of the movie, and of Steinbeck's book, is the ability of the human spirit to remain intact in these worst of times. The Joads suffer terrible humiliations, one after another, most of them because of their desperate financial status. But as the story proceeds we see that they are fundamentally decent, hard-working people, and every time life knocks them down they get back up, brush the dirt off themselves, and keep moving forward. As a national characteristic, this was an important trait because this was the generation that produced the hard-working, high-minded individuals who did important things like win World War II, followed by America's greatest financial flourishing and the Baby Boom. Tom Brokaw called them "America's Greatest Generation".
The cast is picture-perfect, with Henry Fonda as the spirited Tom Joad and John Carradine as the former preacher with a new social consciousness. Jane Darwell won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Award as Ma Joad, and the remainder of the cast is in every way equal to the story and the film.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"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.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
I may be a bit biased, because I read the book just prior to watching the film, but the book is better.
The film is VERY faithful to the book, with much of the dialogue having been directly extracted. But, there is no way the movie could have contained the detail, historical background, local color and just sheer brilliant descriptions that can be captured in a 600-page book.
Outstanding performances: Fonda in a performance generally regarded as one of his best; Jane Darwell, as Ma Joad, evolves as the story progresses and provides the continuity among the disintegration of the other characters; John Carridine, as Jim Casy, gives, for me, the best performance among the great cast, and perhaps captures his character's importance to the story even more fully than in the book.
A previous review mentions the Depression-era photography of Dorothea Lange. I recently bought a number of her collections (from Amazon, of course) and it is indeed striking how frequently during the movie I saw the resemblance. This connection really enhanced the overall mood, that is, the despair and the unbelievably bad living conditions.
Read the book...then see the movie, perhaps the best literary/cinematic pairing ever.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2012
"The Grapes of Wrath," John Ford's unforgettable 1940 drama, is a spiritual horror film. I had never before read John Steinbeck's famous novel (The Grapes of Wrath) and finally sat down to watch the film one dark night with the lights turned off. It terrified me. An uneducated farming family is thrown off of their land and they must travel thousands of miles through an apocalyptic, uncaring world. Like famous pioneer wagon trains before them, they suffer through the death of family members, starvation and ridicule, all the while slowly migrating towards what is supposed to be a California American Eden.
In his most famous performance, Henry Fonda plays Tom Joad, a recently paroled convict walking alone on the highway towards his parents' Oklahoma farm. Joad encounters a preacher who has lost the faith (John Carradine, in what is most likely his most famous role as well), and together they travel the barren land. They arrive to find Tom's home abandoned. An endless drought has rendered the land into a dust bowl and the Depression (The Great Depression: America 1929-1941) has robbed sharecroppers of their livelihood. With a wind continuously howling, they stay in the lonely house for the night. By the light of a candle, they discuss their uncertain future and are visited by a haunted neighbor whose farm has been bulldozed by bankers. He now roams the land as a pauper, a "ghost in a graveyard."
These opening scenes are disturbing, portraying hopeless men forgotten by a bankrupt American society. Their way of life - sharecropping a small farm, a lifestyle existing for centuries - has abruptly come to an end. Tom finds his family at his uncle's neighboring spread, where he famously smiles for the first time when encountering his mother (Ma Joad, played by Jane Darwell in an Oscar-winning performance). They are loading up a creaking 1926 Hudson truck with all of their possessions, grandparents and children, and heading for California armed with a flyer promoting 800 jobs for fruit pickers. Unknown to them, tens of thousands of people are traveling the same route armed with an identical flyer.
There was time when "The Grapes of Wrath" was considered the greatest American film ever made (John Ford: The Man and His Films), an epic work portraying the struggles of common people surviving terrible hardship. It still packs a heavy punch, though is downgraded today for broadly drawn characters bordering on caricature. Youthful critics find the Joad's mode of travel comedic. And conservatives dislike the film's politics involving unions and the scent of Socialist attitudes. Steinbeck praised the work, a rare vote of confidence for Hollywood from a major author. The film was made in 1939, two years before the outbreak of World War II effectively ending the Depression. People were still traveling Route 66 (Route 66: Spirit of the Mother Road) for the California promise land and several loaded down trucks akin to the Joad's were in fact driving the same on-location route and used for background footage.
I found the scenes at the pauper camps, where gangs of starving children surrounded the Joad's campfire, to be deeply troubling. America portrayed as a Third World country is not the stuff of fantasy or romance. But if you look at the famous 1936 Dorothea Lange photograph of a mother and her children (Dorothea Lange), you know Ford was not far from the truth. Personally, I am the son of a woman who grew up on a sharecropper's farm and recall childhood family reunions when aunts and uncles discussed mule-drawn wagons and walking several miles to school. Grandparents, some of whom were suffering from Alzheimer's akin to this film's Grandpa and Grandma (Charley Grapewin, Zeffie Tilbury), had to be cared for with great love and tolerance. I knew the film's characters and understood their frustrations and insecurities.
I recall traveling with these family members and how they would reroute a long journey to bypass urban areas. My uncles wore overalls like the Joads. They listened to Bob Wills, very much akin to the rural ballads ("Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," "Red River Valley") of this film. Within me, "The Grapes of Wrath" struck a deeply mournful chord. Ford gets so much right with his heartbreaking portrayals, and the extraordinary detail of set decoration mixed with authentic on-location footage creates an unparalleled documentary of an American time and place. Cinematographer Gregg Toland (who would go on to great fame with Citizen Kane (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray] two years later) deserves credit for shooting some of the most vivid scenes in history. Solemn travelers surrounding campfires or an impromptu roadside funeral resemble works of American Regionalist art (Renegade Regionalists: The Modern Independence of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry).
Perhaps the most haunting scene is the family traveling by night across the deadly expanse of the Mojave Desert. By the light of the moon, sinister Yucca trees pass the windows and children stare from the apparent safety of the truck bed, amazed at the solemnity of the land. The Joads pray for the truck to cross the endless desolation before sunrise, alone on an odyssey but for the unity of each other. They say "Citizen Kane" supplanted this film as the greatest in American history. From where I sit, the roots of "The Grapes of Wrath" go much deeper into the soil.