Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath; drama, USA, 1940; D: John Ford, S: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Dorris Bowdon, Charley Grapewin

Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Tom Joad returns to his farm after spending 4 years in jail for homicide, but is shocked to find out his estate was evicted. He stumbles upon the ex-preacher Casy and meets up with his family who tell him that their farm has been took over by a company. Without anything, they start a long journey to California with a on old truck to find work there. On their way, grandpa and grandma die, while they are shocked that there is hardly work in California. They settle in a camp, but get out after it's put on fire. Then they find job at a peach farm, but when guards kill Casey, Tom kills one of them. The family goes to a camp run by the Department of Agriculture. There Tom decides to run away to join the movement for social justice.

A magnificent masterpiece, winner of 2 Oscars (best director John Ford, supporting actress Jane Darwell), "The Grapes of Wrath" are an exceptional adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel with the same title and a classic in the history of cinema. Thanks to Ford's supremely effective directing that's sensitive, strong, authentic and gripping even today the story became a virtuoso crafted essay about the consequences of Great Depression, a one so intimate and close to heart that almost every viewer can identify himself or herself with the characters and feel uneasy about their pessimistic fate. Filled with realistic, dirty details about the incredible poverty of that time that makes even some places in California look like a Third World country and a sly socialist subtext at the end, "Grapes" are a truly powerful and moving picture, whether it talks about the poor economic themes (in one scene, a bulldozer enters the Joad estate and Muley threatens to shoot, but then he recognizes the driver. He asks him why he is doing this and the driver tells him: "For 3 $ a day. If you shoot me, they will hire another one to do it!") or portrays the mentality of the characters (after the prayer for the supper, grandma complains how grandpa took a bite before they finished, and he tells her: "Why don't you just close your eyes during the grace!").

Henry Fonda is great in the leading role, while such a simple blend of wisdom and observation is rare today, which gave a highlight in one beautiful, humble and honest sequence that is unforgettable: during their long trip, the family stops at a diner, and grandfather and his two grandchildren enter the place and ask if they can buy a loaf of bread for 10 cents. The owner, seeing how poor they are, gives them the bread, even though its price is 15 cents. When grandfather asks about candy for his grandchildren ("Those are one candy for a cent?"), the saleslady gives two to them ("No, it's two candies for a cent"), even though their price is actually 5 cents per candy. During the whole time, customers were watching what is happening. After grandfather and the kids exit from the diner, all the customers pack their stuff and each of them leaves some money at the cash desk, thereby thanking the owners for their humanity and compensating their loss of selling food twofold. That moment is one of those rare examples of something pure, some essence of life being shown on film, which works even without any gimmicks of effects.


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