Classic Review – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Title – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Director – John Ford (The Searchers) 

Cast – Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Russell Simpson, Charley Grapewin

Plot – Based on John Steinbeck’s classic novel that deal’s with Oklahoma family the Joad’s who are driven off their land in the Great Depression and seek a new life in the supposed abundant lands of California. 

“We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people'”

Review by Eddie on 31/08/2022

A testament to the power of its source material and the skill of director John Ford and his able bodied cast, despite its age creeping ever closer to 100 years being in existence, black and white Great Depression set The Grapes of Wrath remains a poignant and gripping tale of one families battle to stay afloat in an unfair world, with the themes at the heart of author John Steinbeck’s novel and Ford’s adaptation sadly just as relevant now as they were then in a global system that doesn’t make it easy for the common folk, the “people”. 

Following the trials and tribulations of the Joad family as they embark on an uprooting of their lives from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the green pastures of California after the Great Depression has decimated their farming lives and sent them on a desperate search for a chance at a new life, Wrath may not have an overall plot as such but Ford’s understanding of the material his working with and care in ensuring that the Joad’s feel like living and breathing creations gives his film a personal touch that will resonate with a varied collection of viewers. 

Centring its main attention towards Henry Fonda’s recently freed from jail Tom, a man who returns to a whole new world to the one he left when first entering into prison, Wrath never settles too much around one sole protagonist as the Joad’s and their close contacts get time in the spotlight as their cross country car trip to a fresh start involves run ins with the law, death/illness and above everything else hope, all documented by Ford (in an Oscar winner directional outing) and captured by some truly stunning cinematography from frequent Ford collaborator Gregg Toland. 

Importantly for the film, while it’s unlikely many have ever experienced such hardship and overcoming as the unfortunate Joad’s (to be absolutely clear Wrath is far from a jovial watching experience), the characters here and their motivations and drivers are all relatable and understandable and while there are times the narrative may enter into slightly soapy or over the top territory, for the most part Wrath feels true to the type of people it’s documenting and has a carefully considered understanding of the human condition and the plight we are all on to make something of our lives. 

Throughout the film we as viewers are also gifted an array of memorable performances with Fonda as good as he ever was as the softly spoken but deep thinking Tom with the legendary Hollywood figure ably supported by the Oscar winning Jane Darwell as lovable motherly figure Ma Joad, John Carradine as ex-preacher turned wanderer Jim Casy and  Russell Simpson as Pa Joad, giving Wrath an all-round winning ensemble that helped bring Steinback’s classic words to life in a meaningful and memorable way. 

Final Say – 

A deservedly praised American classic that tackles themes and subjects that are still topical and relevant in today’s climate, The Grapes of Wrath is quintessential cinema and one of the best cinematic examples of a classic piece of literature coming to life on the big screen. 

4 1/2 loafs of bread out of 5 

12 responses to “Classic Review – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this one and I’m impressed by the range of movies you review. I saw this one around 20 years ago (I had to stop and think about that because it seems like it’s only a few years ago) but I remember my dad thinking it was boring while I loved it. There is a real depth there and there is a reason The Grapes of Wrath is such a well known name in cinema.

  2. That’s a very sensitive review you made, really. That reminds me how many gems, how many incredi me movies Ford made at this time. From “drums along the Mohawk” to “How green the valley was”, from “grapes of wrath” to “my darling Clementine”, I can’t chose where to put my eyes on. And Fonda, in the middle of it, as its best.
    Thanx again for praising these wonderful pages of cinema.

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