This remarkable film version of Steinbeck's novel was nominated for seven Academy AwardsÂ(r), including for Best Picture, Actor (Henry Fonda), Film Editing, Sound and Writing. John Ford won the Best Director OscarÂ(r) and ... more »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.« less
Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 07/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""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."
Also recommended: 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 Viva Zapata! The Ox-Bow Incident"
"We're the People"
JP Wheeler | 03/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Not as good as the book, but that probably was impossible
Ronald Hoeflinger | Sugar Land, TX USA | 09/23/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
A great American movie. Watch it again and again.
weirdo_87 | Rancho Cucamonga, CA USA | 03/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
The Grapes--and Apples and Oranges--of Wrath
brettf_unimelb | Melbourne, VIC Australia | 07/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."