The Grapes of Wrath is an American 1940 film directed by John Ford. It was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning 1939 novel, of the same name, written by John Steinbeck.
The screenplay was penned by Nunnally Johnson and executive produced by Darryl F. Zanuck.
The film is about an Oklahoma family, the Joads, who become migrant workers in California after losing their farm during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The motion picture also details their arduous journey across country to California.
The film premiered in New York City on January 24, 1940, and Los Angeles on January 27, 1940. The wide release date in the USA was March 15, 1940.
The film opens with Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) being released from prison and hitchhiking his way back to his family farm in Oklahoma only to find it deserted.
Tom finds an itinerant ex-preacher named Jim Casy (John Carradine) sitting under a tree by the side of the road. Tom remembers that Casy was the preacher who baptized him, but now Casy has "lost the call" and his faith. Casy leads him to find his family at Uncle John's place. His family is happy to see Tom and expain they have made plans to head for California in search of employment as their farm has been foreclosed by the bank.
The large Joad family of twelve leaves at daybreak, packing everything into an old and dilapidated modified truck in order to make the long journey to the promised land of California.
The trip along Highway 66 is arduous and it soon takes a toll on the Joad family. Weak and elderly Grampa is the first to die on their journey. After he dies, they pull over to the shoulder of the road, unload him, and bury him. Tom writes the circumstances surrounding the death on a page from the family Bible and places it on the body so that if his remains were ever found his death would not be investigated as a possible homicide.
They park in a camp and they meet a man, a returning migrant from California, who laughs at Pa's optimism about conditions in California and who speaks bitterly about his awful experiences in the West. He hints at what the Joads will soon find out for themselves.
The family arrives at the first transient migrant campground for workers and find the camp is crowded with other hungry, starving, jobless and desperate travelers. Their truck slowly makes its way through the dirt road between the shanty houses and around the camp's hungry-faced inhabitants. Tom says, "Sure don't look none too prosperous."
After some trouble with a "so-called" agitator, the Joad's leave the camp in a hurry.
The Joad's make way to another migrant camp named the Keene Ranch. After doing some work in the fields they discover about the high food prices in the company store for meat and other products. The problem is that the store is the only one in the area, by a long shot. Later they find there is a striking group of migrants in the camp and Tom wants to find out all about it. Tom goes to a secret meeting in the dark woods.
The meeting is discovered and Casy is killed by one of the guards. Tom defends Casy from the vicious attack and kills the attacking guard in retaliation.
During the altercation, Tom suffers a serious face wound on his cheek and the guard realizes it won't be difficult to identify him.
That evening the family hides Tom under the mattresses of the truck just as guards arrive to question them and search for the killer of the guard. Tom avoids being spotted and the family successfully leave the Keene Ranch without further incident.
At the top of a hill, the car runs out of gas, and they're able to coast into a third type of camp: a clean camp run by the USDA.
After Tom becomes personally idealized by what he has witnessed in the various camps, he describes how he will carry on Casy's mission in the world by fighting for social reform. Tom goes off to seek a new world, and he must leave his family to join the movement committed to social justice.
- I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too.
Production on the film began on October 4, 1939, and completed on November 16, 1939.
The film's "fake" working title was "Highway 66." This is because John Ford needed to use Oklahoma in the highway scenes and Steinbeck's novel was very controversial with many of the state's citizens. The novel, in fact, had been criticized upon its release; nowhere more so than in the Midwest.
Producer Daryl F. Zanuck was nervous about the hard left political view found in the novel, especially the ending. Due to the red-baiting common of the era, Daryl Zanuck sent private investigators to Oklahoma to help legitimize the film. When Zanuck's investigators found the "Okies" predicament was indeed terrible, Zanuck was confident he could defend attacks that the film was somehow pro-Communist.
Still, Zanuck watered down the novel's tone for the film and as a consequence did much to sell the fictional Joads story to the general public in the United States. In addition, critic Roger Ebert believes that due to Adolf Hitler's rising to power in Europe in the 1930s, Communism enjoyed a respite from "American demonology," at least for a brief time.
Odd production bedfellows
Both executive producer Daryl Zanuck and director John Ford were odd choices to make this film because both were considered politically very conservative.
Filming locationsSome of the filming locations include: McAlester, Sayre both in Oklahoma; Gallup, Laguna Pueblo, and Santa Rosa, all in New Mexico; Lamont, Needles, San Fernando Valley, all in California; Topock, Petrified Forest National Park, all in Arizona.
When released the film was well received by the film critics. But, it did have its detractors especially due to the leftist political overtones of the film.
Film critic Frank S. Nuggent, writing for The New York Times, liked the film's screenplay, the direction of the film and the acting. He wrote, "In the vast library where the celluloid literature of the screen is stored there is one small, uncrowded shelf devoted to the cinema's masterworks, to those films which by dignity of theme and excellence of treatment seem to be of enduring artistry, seem destined to be recalled not merely at the end of their particular year but whenever great motion pictures are mentioned. To that shelf of screen classics Twentieth Century-Fox yesterday added its version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, adapted by Nunnally Johnson, directed by John Ford and performed at the Rivoli by a cast of such uniform excellence and suitability that we should be doing its other members an injustice by saying it was 'headed' by Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine and Russell Simpson."
When critic Bosley Crowther, called the dean of American film critics, retired in 1967, he named The Grapes of Wrath one of the best fifty films ever made. (N.B.: 40% of the works Crowther named were foreign films.)
In a film review written for Time magazine by its editor Whittaker Chambers, an outspoken opponent of communism, he separated his views of Steinbeck's novel from Ford's film, which he liked. Chambers wrote, "But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book...Camera craft purged the picture of the editorial rash that blotched the Steinbeck book. Cleared of excrescences, the residue is a great human story which made thousands of people, who damned the novel's phony conclusions, read it. It is the saga of an authentic U.S. farming family who lose their land. They wander, they suffer, but they endure. They are never quite defeated, and their survival is itself a triumph."
Ma, Tom, and Pa Joad.
Today the film has become an American classic and continues to be screened in many college campuses and union halls across the country. When the film was shown at a SEIU union hall in Baltimore film critic Bret McCabe penned a review. He especially liked the look of the film and wrote, "The Grapes of Wrath is riddled with such effectively mannered performances—particularly John Carradine's ex-preacher Casy and Eddie Quillan's driven-mad-by-desperation Connie. But the real star here is cinematographer Gregg Toland's vérité camerawork."
However, some analysts believe the "myth of the Okies," helped created by John Steinbeck's novel, is a mistake. As such, they argue the film's story rings false. Keith Windschuttle, writing for The New Criterion, wrote, "In the film of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's statement that people owned their land not because they had a piece of paper but because they had been born on it, worked on it, and died on it is given to the half-crazy character Muley Graves. His sentiments, and the injustice of the dispossession behind them, resonate throughout the drama. Again, however, these remarks bear very little relationship to the real farmers of Oklahoma."
On June 17, 1998 the American Film Institute selected the best American films of all time by a vote of 1,500 industry experts selected by the AFI. In a television program shown on CBS named AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies The Grapes of Wrath placed 21st. In 2005, again, in a CBS program named AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers, the film moved up to 7th position.
Currently, the film has a 100% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on thirty-two reviews.
Cast and ratings
- Henry Fonda as Tom Joad
- Jane Darwell as Ma Joad
- John Carradine as Casy, former preacher
- Charley Grapewin as Grandpa Joad
- Dorris Bowdon as Rose-of-Sharon Rivers
- Russell Simpson as Pa Joad
- O.Z. Whitehead as Al Joad
- John Qualen as Muley Graves
- Eddie Quillan as Connie Rivers
- Zeffie Tilbury as Grandma Joad
- Frank Sully as Noah Joad
- Frank Darien as Uncle John Joad
- Darryl Hickman as Winfield Joad
- Shirley Mills as Ruthie Joad
- Roger Imhof as Mr. Thomas, ditch employer
- Grant Mitchell as Manager, government camp
- Charles D. Brown as Wilkie, boy lookout at dance
- John Arledge as Davis, bulldozer driver
- Ward Bond as Friendly Policeman, Bakersfield
Comparison to novel
The first part of the film version follows the book fairly accurately.
However, the second half and the ending in particular are significantly different from the book. While the book's ending tells of the downfall and ultimate break-up of the Joad family, the film switches the entire order of sequences so that the family ends up in a "good" camp provided by the government and events turn out relatively well.
Also, the novel's original ending was far too controversial to be included in the film. In the novel Rose-of-Sharon Rivers (Dorris Bowdon) gives birth to a stillborn baby and then offers her milk-filled breasts to a starving man, dying in a barn. That scene was deleted in the film.
Moreover, while the film is somewhat stark it has a more optimistic and hopeful view than the novel, especially when the Joads land at the Department of Agriculture camp--the clean camp. Also, the producers tone down Steinbeck's political references in the novel like the elimination of a monologue using a land owner's description of "reds" as anybody "that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five" to show that under the prevalent conditions that definition applies to every migrant worker looking for better wages. And there is also a greater emphasis on Ma Joad's pragmatic, forward-looking way of dealing with their situation despite Tom's departure and concluding in her spiritual closing "We's the people" speech.