For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!
“The Grapes of Wrath” is a film adapted from the book by John Steinbeck, and directed by John Ford, about sharecroppers who head West when they are forced from their home and land during the Great Depression.
The film begins with Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) returning to his family’s farm after serving four years of a prison sentence for killing a man in a bar fight. As he walks toward the farm, he encounters Casy (John Carradine), a former preacher who has lost the spirit. The two continue on to the farm, but find it deserted except for Muley (John Qualen), a crazed fellow farmer.
Tom finally catches up to his family before they depart for California- they are overjoyed that he has returned in time. His parents, uncle, cousins and Casy too crowd into their covered truck, but Grandpa has a change of heart at the last minute, he refuses to leave the land. The others spike his coffee with some “soothing syrup,” load him into the truck, and leave just ahead of the bulldozers. Grandpa’s will to stay overpowers him and he soon succumbs to his weariness. Though they have lost Grandpa, sadly the first real blow to their morale will come as they talk to other travelers at a roadside camp.
The Joads move on and after many hardships, finally make it to California. They soon realize that it’s not the land of milk and honey they were promised. When they enter a transient camp they discover that many of the other families haven’t found steady work, and are going without food. They end up feeding the children of families staying there- quickly realizing that something needs to change and fast. When a man arrives with the promise of work, we soon see that an inhumane amount of power rests in the hands of the landowners and their henchmen. They are able to set the wages that are paid- ridiculously low- and they know that if one worker refuses the low standards, they can always pass on for someone else who is willing to work for next to nothing.
The family moves on, and finds work harvesting peaches. Tom has a funny feeling about the fenced in work camp and the circumstances surrounding it, and decides to investigate. He wants to talk to some of the men, who were standing outside of the farm. He hears about the broken system, but doesn’t join the strike. However, when men come to breakup the camp, Casy gets an axe handle to the skull and is killed. Tom escapes, but kills one of the men and gets a nasty gash on his face. He stumbles back to camp, where his family must hide him. Soon officers come looking for Tom, knowing the man who killed was injured and so he and the rest of the Joads must flee.
They make it to a government camp. Things seem to be looking up, but the police continue their pursuit. Tom knows that he must leave his family, and all the while Casy’s words about organizing the strike continue to resonate with him. Before he sneaks away he says goodbye to Ma.
Regardless of the way the film has aged, the director John Ford deserves to be a presence high in AFI’s list, and “The Grapes of Wrath” is just one of a handful of films that showcases his remarkable abilities as a director.
In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns: