The Grapes of Wrath
Directed by John Ford
September 16, 1996
Reviewed by: Muhammad Hozien
The movie follows the story of Tom Joad (played by Henry Fonda) as he returns home from a jail sentence. The story takes place during the great depression in dust bowl farm in Oklahoma. Tom returns home to find that the depression has affected everyone in town. He meets the former preacher Casy (played by John Carradine) who explains to him what has been happening. Casy follows him to his empty home. There they find one of the neighbors who has lived in the abandoned home. The neighbor sheds some light as to what is happening to the towns belongings. The winds of dust have destroyed the farms. People are not able to plant the farms in the traditional way.
Modern technology is used to farm the land. The company seems to have mortgaged the lands to a bank which is financing the new farming methods. The owners of the land are losing their lands. Joads family farm has since been foreclosed by the company and the family has since moved to the uncles farm and not for long too. Toms mother Ma Joad (played by Jane Darwell) is happy to see her son return and sees that as a good fortune. Tom finds out that his uncles farm has also been foreclosured by the company and they have to get off the land by the next day.
The family decides to move to California to look for work. The next morning the grandfather refuses to leave his land. They get him drunk just to carry him off. The family is poor and they all just barely fit on a Truck that contains all their belongings. The family begins the trek to California. The first disaster is the grandfather dies of a stroke. He is buried with a note that he was not killed. Prayer services are briefly done by Casy. As they move from gas station to gas station they begin to find out that California is not the land of milk and honey either. They meet more and more people who tell them the reality of the situation in California. Once they get to California, the grandmother soon dies after they enter the state. They find that the situation is worst than they thought. Work is hard to find, and the wages are very low. Due to the effects of the great depression on the surrounding states everyone is also looking for work.
Through all this the family remains with good hopes and look for a break. They move into one camp where people of similar situation are housed. The local authorities are not too happy about the campers. The labor agents are scrupulous and take advantage of the surplus workers. They try to recruit workers with the aid of local authorities. When a worker tells people of the reality of the labors and tricks of the agent, the agent instructs the police to arrest him. When Tom tries to help the worker get away from the police. The police shoots a women by accident and start after the escaping worker. Tom punches the policeman because he is shooting his gun wildly. Casy also punches the policeman, who is now unconscious. Casey tells Tom to hide because he is on parole and he could go to jail for good. Tom hides and Casey is arrested instead of Tom.
The family moves on and finds another camp. They find work but the situation looks suspicious. Tom tries to find out more and when he goes outside the camp one night, in secret, he finds none other than Casey. Casey, now the defacto leader of strikers, explains to Tom the reality of the labor environment. Casey is in a tent with other striking workers due to unfair labor practices by the land owners. Tom does not understand the situation all at once. The land owners send the authorities against the strikers. Casey is killed in front of Tom. Tom, in revenge, hits the killer with a fatal blow to the head. Tom is hit in the face and is now a fugitive. Tom sneaks back to the camp and is not found by the authorities.
The family decides to move on the next day, now the wages are 1/2 as much as before now that the strikers are gone. The family stumble upon a cooperative camp where the campers set the rules for living at the camp. The family is welcomed to the camp. The situation looks like it has turned in there favor. Some of the local land owners do not like the situation of the camp and try to sabotage the camp. The attempt fails due to the carefulness of the campers and good hearted outside informer. The authorities start to snoop around the family truck, and Tom believes they are about to get him. Tom decides to move on by himself in order for his family to have a safe place because the camp is a good place to stay at.
The mother is heart broken, but agrees that it is the best course of action for the family and Tom leaves. Tom tells his mother, 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 where people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build. I'll be there, too.
A few days later everyone leaves the camp because of work elsewhere. The family moves on again... The story ends here.
I liked this movie even though it is a dark and depressing portrayal of the Depression era. The movie is a testament to the undefatable human spirit as characterized by Tom Joad. The movies gives hope that even in the middle of maelstrom, there are always people who will stand strong, maintain there humanity and help others.
The Grandmother summarizes the familys feelings quite well without saying a word:
Ma Joad: There, gramma! Theres California.
Under the appalling conditions the family survives and keeps going. There are undertones of officials who seem to be just a tool of the rich land owners. The character of the mother and Tom are strong characters. Casy, as the preacher who lost his call -who has undergone a change, summarizes his view quite well when he is performing the funeral rites by saying: I wouldn't pray just for a old man that's dead, 'cause he's all right. If I was to pray, I'd pray for folks that's alive and don't know which way to turn.
Black & White, 1946
Henry Fonda as Tom Joad,
Jane Darwell as Ma Joad
John Carradine as Casy
Russell Simpson as Pa Joad
Charley Grapewin as Grandpa Joad
Directed by: John Ford, who won an Academy Award
Jane Darewell, also won an Academy Award Best Supporting actress.
Screenplay Written by Nunnally Johnson - based on the novel by John Steinbeck of the same title.
Musical Score by: Alfred Newman