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Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Based on a famous book by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath was an incredible movie. The novel was published in 1939, and was made into the movie in 1940 by the famous director John Ford (who was the only Director to win 4 best Director Oscars, including one for The Grapes of Wrath). John Ford also made a number of westerns, many of them starring John Wayne, but is also very famous for movie such as The Grapes of Wrath and How Green is my Valley). Interestingly, the USA is a land very much against Communist ideologies, so The Grapes of Wrath could have faced trouble due to its leftist ideology; it however did not because of the power of the story.
The movie is now counted as a classic, seen as among the 25 best films ever made. The images portrayed by the ex-preacher and by Connie bring out the desperation of the times. The acting of Henry Fonda, portraying the lead role of Tom Joad is seen as embodying the resilience of the human spirit, the way that he keeps on going inspite of the problems and struggles that he has to go through. Further, the movie provides a strong canvas on which the struggles of people in the dust bowl is painted with broad strokes. These people were poor and not owning the land on which they till, and facing increasing mechanization; with the dual effect forcing them off their land.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
The Grapes of Wrath was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, and won 2 of them.
Academy Awards nominations (1941)
* Best Actor in a Leading Role, Henry Fonda
* Best Film Editing, Robert L. Simpson.
* Best Picture, Darryl F. Zanuck and Nunnally Johnson.
* Best Sound Recording, Edmund H. Hansen.
* Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, Nunnally Johnson.
Academy Awards wins (1941)
* Best Supporting Actress, Jane Darwell.
* Academy Award for Directing, John Ford.

The movie, set in the Depression era, takes the plight of farmers in the Dust Bowl who are forcibly dispossessed from their land and left destitute. They did not own the land, and when crops failed, banks took over the land and started bringing in the age of mechanization by bringing in huge machines to work the land. These farmers, then, left with no option, get attracted by the promise of a much better life in California, working in farms and fruit orchards, with good pay. However, the trip there is painful across the desert, and when they eventually reach, they find that they have been brought to California on a dream which is false. Farmers are out to exploit them and pay them rock-bottom wages, betting on so many families arriving there that people are desperate for work.
This is captured in the story of one family, the Joad family. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), released early (4 years out of a 7 year sentence) makes it to his family farm to find it empty (in between meeting an old and crusty ex-preacher Casy). He soon learns that his family farm had been repossessed by the bank, and after a bit of discussion with a neighbor Muley Graves (who is deranged after his own farm has been foreclosed), he learns that his family is now at this Uncle John's farm (which will also be foreclosed the next day). The family decides to make a move to California with the promise of getting into better times.
After making the difficult decision of deciding what to take and what to leave, the family sets off, packing the family jalopy full. Along the way, the trip starts taking its toll, with both Grampa an Grandma dying. The family also struggles past suspicious state troops across each state border that they cross. During the course of the journey, they struggle to maintain their pride, and yet they are getting into worse things. Then starts the struggle with the migrant camps (taking up half of the movie).
In the camps, they get into more trouble. Tom is on parole, so he has to avoid trouble, and yet he is not one to take bad behaviour from others lightly, fighting back when he can. Once Casy takes the rap for one such fight and gets run out of town. They finally find work at a ranch, but soon Tom realizes (after a discussion with Casy) that there is a strike ongoing against bad conditions and low pay, and once the strike is broken, the wages will get much lower, and that is eventually what happens. In another fight, Casy is killed, and Tom fights back, killing the attacker (but gets wounded in the face).
This mark on the face is enough to identify him as the person who fought back, and Tom realizes that he will have to leave his family. They manage to leave the camp and for the first time, move into a decent camp run by the Department of Agriculture; which is in much better condition and not subject to intimidation by Sheriff's deputies. However, Tom soon realizes that even this place is not safe for him and he has to move on, and he finally leaves, after a great scene between him and Ma. Tom wants to continue doing what Casy was doing, but is not clear as to what that will mean; he then makes his final departure, leaving Ma. And Ma makes her own statements, show-casing the power of the human will, no matter what the struggles that they go through, she will not be afraid, and will continue to hold the family together. The movie ends on an optimistic note, as opposed to the book that ended on a far more negative note.

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