Combustible Celluloid
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With: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Dorris Bowdon, Russell Simpson
Written by: Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by John Steinbeck
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 128
Date: 01/24/1940

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Great 'Grapes'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Grapes of Wrath is a bit heavy-handed, to say the least. John Ford treats John Steinbeck's novel as if it were holy writ, and the storytelling comes across as if a stern nanny were wagging a finger at you.

Yet no one was ever better at films like these, and the tough love actually works. After experiencing the film as a whole, it comes across as one of the most beautiful ever made in Hollywood -- as if Ford had actually photographed the human spirit.

That's partially thanks to cinematographer Gregg Toland, who pioneered deep-focus technique used the previous year on Wuthering Heights and the following year on Citizen Kane. The scene in which the Joad family arrives at the encampment, driving down the dusty road with suspicious eyes peering at them, is one of the greatest moments in 1940s film.

Henry Fonda stars with a proper combination of righteousness and humility as Tom Joad, a jailbird who returns to his family during the Depression, just in time to help them make a trip to the promised land: California, with its thousands of new jobs. Only the jobs aren't there, and the Joad family must make do through all kinds of heartbreaking trials and tribulations.

John Carradine provides one of his most memorable supporting turns as Casey, and Jane Darwell won an Oscar as the stiff-upper-lip Ma Joad.

DVD Details: Fox's spectacular new DVD equals the job they did a few months ago on Ford's My Darling Clementine. It boasts a new digitally-spruced-up transfer and a commentary track by Ford scholar Joseph McBride and Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw. Other extras include the UK prologue, explaining the time and place to overseas audiences, an episode of A&E Biography on Daryl F. Zanuck, three Movietone News draught reports from 1934, a featurette featuring FDR, outtakes, stills and an optional Spanish-language track.

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