The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is director John Ford's most famous black and white epic drama - the classic adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1940 Pulitzer Prize-winning, widely-read 1939 novel. [The sentimental film is much more closely related to Ford's social protest dramas, The Informer (1935) and How Green Was My Valley (1941) than to his magisterial Westerns.] This film was the most popular left-leaning, socialistic-themed film of pre-World War II Hollywood.
The title of the film was taken from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe ("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 has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword, His truth is marching on"). On the screen, the film honestly and realistically recreates the socio-economic impact of the Great Depression and a mid-30s drought upon one representative family - the Joads. Its theme of an oppressed people's epic move to a new home parallels the Biblical story of Exodus. Their family name, Joad, also evokes the Biblical character of Job.
Nunnally Johnson's screenplay is remarkably faithful to its Steinbeck source material. Not present in the novel or the screenplay is a tacked-on ending in the film that optimistically and sentimentally affirms the strength and human dignity of the individual spirit. Numerous other times, Hollywood has capitalized on other Steinbeck works and adapted them for the screen: Of Mice and Men (1939), Tortilla Flat (1942), The Moon is Down (1943), The Pearl (1948), The Red Pony (1949), East of Eden (1955), and Cannery Row (1982).
There were a total of seven Academy Award nominations for the film - with two wins: Best Supporting Actress (Jane Darwell) for her role as the archetypal mother figure, and Best Director (John Ford). The other five nominations were Best Picture (that lost to Hitchcock's Rebecca), Best Actor (Henry Fonda in one of his greatest film roles), Best Screenplay (Nunnally Johnson), Best Sound Recording, and Best Film Editing. In the same year, when ten Best Pictures were nominated, director Ford had another entry: The Long Voyage Home (1940). A year earlier, Lewis Milestone directed another adaptation of a classic John Steinbeck novel, the tragedy Of Mice and Men (1939), with five Oscar nominations and no wins.
The plight of the Joad family is universalized as a microcosm of the thousands of other tenant farmers during the country's time of crisis, who suffered from oppression imposed by the banks and big mechanized farm interests. The dispossessed, migrant family's departure from their windy and dusty land, and their slow disintegration provides insight into the thousands of Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas Panhandle, and W. Kansas families who were evicted and uprooted from their "Dust Bowl" farm land, and forced to search westward in the inhospitable Eden of California for jobs and survival with thousands of other migrant workers.
Jane Darwell is marvelous (although her accent is inappropriate) as the strong center and backbone of the migratory family that must leave its ancestral land, and Henry Fonda is magnificent as an unmercifully-harrassed Okie who refuses to be beaten and crushed by misfortune. The film's themes include the central importance of the family, the suffering and oppression of the farmers, the hollowness of the American Dream, the display of human dignity and spirit in the face of adversity, and issues of social and economic justice. Original casting for the film called for Beulah Bondi as Ma Joad, James Stewart as Al, and Walter Brennan as Pa Joad.
Filmed in journalistic, documentary-style black and white textures with some low-key lighting and chiaroscuro (often provided by a candle or low light source) - beautifully captured by Gregg Toland's expert cinematography (remarkably un-nominated!), the picture records with astute realism rural America in the 30s. [One year earlier, Toland had been cinematographer for Wuthering Heights (1939), and a year later, he completed the cinematography on Citizen Kane (1941), often regarded as the best film ever made.] Toland's visual images in this film resemble the migrant worker photographs taken by still photographer Dorothea Lange during the Depression. And the musical score by Alfred Newman used variations of "Red River Valley" to give the film added flavor.
It is truly ironic that Peter Fonda, the son of the film's main star, paralleled his father's role in The Grapes of Wrath in his own starring role in Easy Rider (1969) as Wyatt - another independent, heroic, wandering nomad across the Southwest US in a frustrated pursuit of dreams and a better, more idyllic life. However, in pursuit of the 'American dream,' similar to the Joad family's quest, he travels from California (the supposed land of opportunity) to New Orleans - in the opposite direction.
Answered By: Naneth - 12/21/2006