Top 100 Movie Review No. 078 The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Ranked 78 on the IMDB Top Movies (list as at May 2017). Watched August 2018.

Cast: Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), Jane Darwell (Ma Joad), John Carradine (Jim Casy), Charley Grapewin (William James “Grandpa” Joad), Dorris Bowdon (Rose of Sharon), Russell Simpson (Pa Joad), O. Z. Whitehead (Al Joad)
Director: John Ford
My rating: 9.5 / 10

We follow the Joad extended family farmers forced of their farm during the depression-era in Oklahoma. The Joad clan decide to look for a better life in California. The family is led by just-paroled son Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) and the real head and heart of the family Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) they load up a truck going to the promised land with jobs in California.

On the road they are beset by many hardships, the Joads meet dozens of other families making the same desperate trek and holding onto the same dream. The Joad’s experience the best and worst of humanity, the banks and wealthy land owners exploiting the poor and desperate but they also experience some unexpected kindness at times despite the terrible circumstances of the poor and homeless masses.

What’s to Like
The spirit and dignity of the Joad family, exploring the experiences of displaced people in a depression, the very strong acting by the entire cast, the social message about people instead of money and faceless companies, the black-and-white cinematography.

What’s not to Like

This movie is based on the novel of the same name The Grapes of Wrath which was America’s best-selling book of 1939 winning the Pulitzer Prize. It’s understandable why this was a popular book given USA was still living with the consequences of the devastating depression.

It would be almost impossible to have made this movie in the 1950s with that era’s communist paranoia as this movie shouts and screams about the need for Government programs (seen via the almost paradise of the Farmworkers’ Wheat Patch Camp) and workers rights (as explained by Jim Casy and Tom Joad and security killing Jim for trying to organise workers).

I felt for these ‘simple’ people being beaten back for circumstances outside they control but still striving for better with a dignity that it would be very difficult to maintain. It many ways this is idolised version of working class farmers as people of spirit but their situation is not grossed over, good hard working people shouldn’t have to face this much discrimination(in this case poor people).

I totally understand why this was considered a masterpiece when made (both the book and the movie). Very enjoyable.

Academy Awards

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jane Darwell) – winner
  • Best Director (John Ford) – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Henry Fonda) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay (Nunnally Johnson) – nominee
  • Best Sound, Recording (Edmund H. Hansen) – nominee
  • Best Film Editing (Robert L. Simpson) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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