Watched: October 29 2016
Director: John Ford
Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charly Grapewin, Russell Simpson
Runtime: 2h 9min
The schizophrenic opening music perfectly sums up The Grapes of Wrath – it is in turns depressing and uplifting, and while a lot of bad things happen to the Joad family, there’s always hope and love. Sister the Oldest had read the Steinbeck novel before, but none of us had seen the film, possibly because we feared it would be too depressing. As it turned out – yes, it’s depressing, but we loved it nonetheless.
During the Great Depression, Oklahoma native Tom Joad (Fonda) is released from prison and hitchhikes back home only to find his family home deserted. He learns from former preacher Jim Casy (Carradine) and another local they come across that all families have been driven from their homes by the deed owners due to ruined crops. Tom eventually catches up with his family at his uncle’s place, and the Joads, along with Casy, start their arduous journey west, believing there’s work for them in California.
Along the way, they are faced with the deaths of two family members, xenophobic locals (“Okies” apparently ranked somewhere between Gypsies and rabid dogs back in the ’30s), cynical employers and corrupt police officers. However, they also meet with the occasional kindness, and the family members love each other and stick together, led by the wonderful Ma Joad (Darwell) who we absolutely adored.
Tom’s experiences awaken his philosophical and political side, although it is former preacher Casy who becomes an activist and strike leader. However, when Tom tries to defend Casy from camp guards during an illegal strike meeting, he inadvertently kills the guard and becomes a liability for his family. He decides he has to go off on his own, but he waits until his family has found a safe place to stay (he is a good son after all).
The dark side of the American Dream is evident in The Grapes of Wrath: if you’re poor, it’s somehow your own fault (you probably haven’t worked hard enough!) and so no one should feel sorry for you or help you out. The film is heartbreaking, sad, melancholy and occasionally infuriating. The Joads are loving and lovely though, and they give us a feeling of hope despite the bleak world they live in. The film is beautifully shot, and even the decrepit, dried-up land looks beautiful. Definitely worth watching!
What we learned: We’re sure glad business owner never exploit workers anymore in the USA (or anywhere else for that matter). And also that there’s no racism, xenophobia, generalisation of entire groups of people or anything like that anymore. Phew!
Next time: Citizen Kane (1941)