The Grapes of Wrath
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This remarkable film version of Steinbeck?s novel was nominated for seven Academy Awards®, including for Best Picture, Actor (Henry Fonda), Film Editing, Sound and Writing. John Ford won the Best Director Oscar® and actress Jane Darwell won Best Actress for her portrayal of Ma Joad, the matriarch of the struggling migrant farmer family. Following a prison term he served for manslaughter, Tom Joad returns to find his family homestead overwhelmed by weather and the greed of the banking industry. With little work potential on the horizon of the Oklahoma dust bowls, the entire family packs up and heads for the promised land ? California. But the arduous trip and harsh living conditions they encounter offer little hope, and family unity proves as daunting a challenge as any other they face.
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 Wrath is 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 put, one of the finest films ever made. --Jeff Shannon
- U.K. prologue
- "Darryl F. Zanuck: 20th Century Filmmaker" as seen on A&E's Biography
- "Roosevelt Lauds Motion Pictures at Academy Fete" featurette
- Movietone news: three drought reports from 1934
- Restoration comparison
- Still gallery
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Top customer reviews
The two roles I most remember Fonda for is his portrayal of the holdout juror in "Twelve Angry Men" and in the role of Tom Joad, in this poignant tale of hope among ruins.
I first saw this film when I was in the eighth grade (1971), and I never forgot it. It was one of the first videos I purchased after I bought my VCR, and I have two DVD copies. Fonda's performance is one of the strongest I've ever seen, and I think it was easy for him to being Joad to life because of his own Midwestern roots. Fonda grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and as a youth witnessed the lynching of a black man named Will Brown. Fonda later said that the experience had a profound effect on him and it showed in many of the underdog and everyman roles he chose.
Joad is a character first etched in the psyche of Americans in the novel by John Steinbeck on which the film is based. He is an ex-con, but a down home fella in the truest sense of the word. He's a cynic, whose discerning view is honed by the despair his friends and family suffer when they lose their land during the dust bowl of the 1930's.
I won't elaborate on the plot any further: I think most of us know the story. What makes the film a classic is not so much the plot as the acting and cinematography. The black and white film further emphasizes the stark reality that America was a "tale of two cities": Americans surviving hard times and so-called "Oakies" who lived on hope as much as bread and water.
The cast is a large one, but Ford has no problem showing us the contrast in each one, from the sad-eyed hope of Ma Joad (Jane Darwin, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) to the merriment of the children who travel across country in the family's jalopy and who despite their poverty, find joy in just being. The viewer never gets lost in the shuffle and can see that each character is sharply defined.
Oscar worthy execution not only from Fonda, Darwin and Ford--but also John Carradine as Casey, a former preacher who has lost his faith and is the most downtrodden character of all these tragic figures.
Though the story takes place nearly a century ago, this tale of real Americans stands the test of time and will be enjoyed by generations to come. Definitely five stars.