Grapes of Wrath, The (1940)

Director:  John Ford
Cast:  Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine
Plot:  A poor Midwest family is forced off of their land.  They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won 2 Oscars - Best Director, Best Supporting Actress.  Nom. for 5 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound.
Runtime:  128min
Rating:  PG

John Ford was one of the greatest directors who ever lived.  Throughout his magnificent career, he has made unforgettable Western motion pictures (Stagecoach, The Searchers, to name a couple), winning four Oscars for Best Director, and was a major influence on Akira Kurosawa. 

The Grapes of Wrath sees Ford take up the challenge of directing a drama set in Midwest America during the Great Depression.  And he shows remarkable adaptability in a genre that requires a more subtle approach to filmmaking.

The cast are near-perfect in their roles, reprising the characters made popular by John Steinbeck's critically-acclaimed novel of the same name.  The Joad family is able to strike a chord with us because we see ourselves in them.  No fanciful, high-status people; just a humble family of farmers trying to live their lives as best as they can. 

Only to be hit by bad weather, unjustifiable government policies, and the dreadful Great Depression.  Their sufferings and hopes we share as much as them, and no matter how dire the circumstances are, we root for them in our hearts.

The photography work is astute and detailed, with the film often incorporating sounds of nature to lend an organic touch.  The drama and screenplay are top-notch, covering each member of the family uniformly, without leaving out important character development scenes.  It's emotionally gripping at times, and has a melancholic tone throughout, but ends in such an inspiring way that makes viewers who are disillusioned with their lives to want to live again. 

Poignant and powerful, The Grapes of Wrath is a triumph in the tradition of To Kill A Mockingbird, both capturing the soul of their award-winning source materials without undermining the spirit of film art itself.

GRADE: A (9/10 or 4.5 stars)

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