The Grapes of Wrath is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name written by John Steinbeck. I never read the book, but I intend to some time soon. From what I read the movie follows the first half of the book pretty closely, but the second half does not.
The Grapes of Wrath stars Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, John Carradine as Jim Casey, Russell Simpson as Pa Joad, Dorris Bowdin as Rose of Sharon "Rosasharn" Rivers, Charley Grapewin as Grandpa William James Joad, Zeffie Tilbury as Grandma Joad, and Frank Darien as Uncle John Joad.
The movie was directed by John Ford and released on January 14, 1940. The time period is the great depression. I first saw this movie many years ago while in college. I was a film student and one day the professor had us watch the entire movie in class. The course I took was on film critique. We watched a number of films throughout the semester and discussed them afterwards. Many people would say that The Grapes of Wrath is worth watching just for Henry Fonda;s performance. I do agree that Mr. Fonda gave a stellar performance, but I say that the movie is worth seeing for the performances of the entire cast. I don't want to take anything away from them by singling out Henry Fonda. The entire cast was amazing.
In 1989 the Library of Congress choose The Grapes of Wrath as one of the first 25 films to be preserved in the National Film Registry because of its historical significance. The movie is indeed significant in the fabric of American history. In the 1930's severe dust bowl storms caused tremendous damage to American and Canadian farmland. As a result farmers could not pay their loans and the banks foreclosed on the land and homes. Many families headed for California because it was believed to be the promised land. However, the nation was in a great depression. The families who traveled across the nation from the Midwest were in for a rude awakening. They were unskilled laborers who were taken terrible advantage of by those who did have money and doing well. Many could not find work and those who did were paid extremely low wages. The people were made to live like pigs and there was starvation throughout. It is a very sad period in American history and another example of man's inhumanity to man. In my opinion very little has changed. Big corporations continue to suck people dry. The Federal Reserve Act which is the biggest scam and ponzi scheme ever is still in full force decades later. The rich get richer and do not want the mass of the people to prosper as well.
Tom Joad has just been released from prison where he spent 4 years after killing a man in self defense. There is no transportation so Tom is walking home through the barren and dry lands that were once fertile. Tom asks a trucker if he can give him a lift. In the scenes with the trucker you immediately get a glimpse of Tom's personality. Tom is a good man, but he is prone to having a quick temper which gets him into trouble, and you can sense that his quick temper is going to get him into more trouble down the road.
Tom Joad also annoyed me during this scene because while the truck driver was being nosy he was also still being kind enough to give Tom a ride. How about a little gratitude and thanks. You don't bite off the hand that is feeding you as the saying goes. Maybe I just need to read the book in order to understand Tom Joad better.
Tom rides as far as he can with the truck driver. When he gets off the truck Tom continues walking towards his family farm and on the way he runs into former pastor Jim Casey. Jim is no longer a preacher because he lost his faith and is no longer sure what to believe in. Casey joins Tom on his walk to his family home. Tom finds his family home empty and deserted. A former neighbor and farmer has been hiding out in Tom's family home and that is how Tom learns what has been going on while he was in prison.
Tom Joad is so moved seeing his mother after so many years.
Tom arrived just in the knick of time because the Joads are heading out for California at dawn the next day. The bank is coming to foreclosure on the farm of Tom's Uncle John. The family was able to raise $200. by selling some of their belongings. Out of the $200. $75. was spent to buy an old Jalopy for the family to drive to California in.
Ma Joad in her last moments in Uncle John's home and the state of Oklahoma.
The Joads are all packed and ready to leave. The family asks if Jim Casey would like to join them and he goes with the Joads to California.
California here they come.
The journey to California is filled with many ups and downs. Before they are out of the state of Oklahoma Grandpa Joad dies and the family stops to grieve and bury him. The money that the family was able to raise has to stretch for gas and food for the entire trip west. There is a very touching scene when Grandpa stops to buy a loaf of bread and can only spend 10 cents. The family has to also stop to go through inspections as they enter into each state.
Finally, after many trials the Joads cross the bridge into California. It is amazing how that old truck carried them all the way through the entire journey and beyond.
The Joads admire the green fertile landscape. Grandma Joad died way back just before the last state inspection stop and will be buried in California.
The Joads are in for a rude awakening. Thousands of people traveled across the USA believing there is an abundance of work in California, but the reality is that there are not nearly enough jobs for all the people. The bigger farms that are making money take advantage of the Midwesterners. The pay is very little for a lot of work. The big farmers get away with it because so many people are vying for the same jobs. The workers also known as "Okies" are despised and look down upon by even the authority figures. Law enforcement continually sets them up to be arrested and the camps are burned down. Men overlooking the big farms are extremely rude to them and treat them like pigs. The people are huddled into cramped living conditions of squalor.
Trouble begins again for Tom Joad shortly after the family arrive at the first camp. Tom defends a man who is being wrongly accused and then attacked by authority figures.
After a days work on a peach farm Tom is injured after defending Jim Casey that night. Tom wanted to go for a walk but the workers are not allowed to go for walks, so Tom sneaked out and ran into Jim Casey. I wanted to yell for Tom to just follow orders and go back into the shanty because I knew that Tom was headed for trouble if he sneaked out.
Ma Joad nurses her son, but the Joads now have to leave the peach farm job because the authorities are looking for a man they do not yet know is Tom Joads. Tom killed the man who killed Jim Casey. Tom's injuries from that scuffle left a huge telltale scar on his face.
Tom Joad's luck runs out and one he overhears the authorities checking license plate numbers. Tom knows that he must leave his family and packs up to go out on his own. Before he leaves Tom and his mother have a really touching good bye talk. Ma Joad doesn't want Tom to go and says that she can hide him from the authorites, but Tom knows that will not do. If Ma Joad is caught harboring a fugitive then she will do jail time as well. I was wondering why Tom did not think of his mither every time he blew off the handle. I liked the character, but in many ways I saw Tom Joad as his own worst enemy. The family was suffering enough as it is without him constantly getting into trouble with the law. The law turned out to be crooked, but Tom's quick temper made things worse and it solved none of their problems. Rose of Sharon's husband ran off and left the family way back while the family was at the first camp. The Joads needed one another and now Tom was lost to them again and this time for good.
The Joads pack up and leave the government run camp without Tom. Ma Joad frets over Tom and worries that he will remain safe.
At the end Ma Joad is driving the truck and it is clear that she is now the head of the family. Ma gives Pa Joad a wonderful reply about how the big and powerful die out, but "we the people" are stronger and always survive.
Below is the last line that Ma Joad speaks before the movie concludes.
"ain't never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn't have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared.... Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain't no good and they die out, but we keep on coming. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out, they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, cos we're the people".
Even though the subject matter is a depressing one, I really enjoyed watching The Grapes of Wrath again after so many years. The visual imagery is very powerful. The acting performances as I already wrote is superb. The messages are clear and this is a movie that I am sure made many people uneasy when it first came out in 1940.
Director John Ford on the set with Henry Fonda.