Saturday, March 23, 2013

Now on Netflix: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) – Directed by John Ford; Written by Nunnally Johnson; Cinematography by Gregg Toland; Starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Zeffie Tilbury, Dorris Bowdon, Russell Simpson, John Qualen, Eddie Quillan, Q.Z. Whitehead and Grant Mitchell.

By Kenny Howell

One of the biggest complaints filmgoers have is that the book was better. This is one of the situations when it is not necessarily the case. This is my favorite John Ford film. Known for his westerns and war films, Ford wonderfully adapted the John Steinbeck novel of Tom Joad’s (Fonda) trek from Oklahoma to California.

Joad, who was recently released from jail on a murder charge, returns home to find his family is being thrown out of their land because of foreclosure. The Joad family heads west from Oklahoma to California in search of work, and find the true harshness of the depression.

This film shares a cinematographer with probably the best American film ever made, Citizen Kane, in Gregg Toland. While Toland relied on the grandiose for Kane, he leaves this film spare. Stripping it of its polish, perfectly capturing the emptiness of the depression. A lot of the film is shot in dark locations, and Toland lit the scenes with just one candle. Something so simple gives such extraordinary beauty to the film.

Fonda is at his best here, as he earned an Oscar nomination. Jane Darwell, playing Ma Joad, won the Oscar for Best Actress.

Rating: ****

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