Written by / 3/17/2014 / No comments / , , , , , ,

HENRY FONDA ON A SOAPBOX IN 'THE GRAPES OF WRATH'

year: 1940 rating: *1/2
Following the opening credits, after Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad hitches a ride with a reluctant, narrow-minded truck driver, the vehicle heads off, with gears sounding like a faintly muted air raid siren… And for Tom, back in his hometown Oklahoma after a seven-year prison sentence, this could have been the first sign of an extremely hard road ahead, where almost no one will be on his (or his family's) side…

And so, upon trudging the rudimentary path, our rigid hero quickly stumbles upon one of the more colorful characters, a fallen yet thoroughly enlightened preacher named Casy, played by John Carradine, who offers Tom, nearly a decade shy of local knowledge, sporadic words of wisdom… But the really important lowdown occurs when a paranoid, rambling hermit... holed up in the Joad’s abandoned shanty... tells (through flashbacks) how big business has driven the workers off their land: and we soon learn the only beacon light resides in California.

Visually, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, based on one of John Steinbeck's most famous novels, is a cinematic masterpiece with beautiful sets, in-house skylines and handsome B&W Gregg Toland cinematography, complimenting John Ford’s scant direction, but the pivotal road trip, as the entire Joad family clings to the dilapidated truck like loose pins on a grungy cushion, is such a perpetual downer you’ll be searching for a silver lining, or even one that’s dark gray.

The most potentially intriguing scenes occur when, in a California work camp run like a prison, Tom’s curiosity is peaked and, after venturing off, he learns about a small band of strikers, has a violent run-in with the authorities, and is forced to hide out. Eventually, Tom and his family must escape… which is as suspenseful as things get... And soon enough the Joads find utopia!

Once the "Okie" clan acquires solace in a village run by the Department of Agriculture, where each member pulls his own weight (although there’s not much work to be done other than chores within the camp), the political agenda is blatantly unveiled, only this movie, made in 1940, was one of the first of its kind and credit must be given for that alone…

But alas, with Henry Fonda’s stark realism and Carradine's offbeat charm aside, the performances seem right out of a stage play (especially the overrated Oscar winning role) while the unceasing, melodramatic tragedy is so deliberately overboard, it's difficult to find any real story there at all.
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