Throughout high school, I was an avid reader of the great American novels. Perhaps no novel held my attention like "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. This 1940 film is directed by John Ford, who won his second Best Director Oscar for the film, and the cast includes Oscar nominee Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Oscar winner Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, John Carradine as Casy, and a host of other strong supporting performances.
Nunnally Johnson adapted the novel for the film, and the film is remarkably faithful to the book. The story is a simple one. The Joad family loses their Midwestern home and travel West to California in hopes of finding a better life. An incredibly timely message in 1940, the message of hopes, dreams and economic challenges should still resonate deeply with today's audiences.
The photography by Gregg Toland is inspiration and groundbreaking for 1940, and it is truly the presence of Fonda that makes this film sell. I am always surprised when liberals don't embrace this film. "The Grapes of Wrath" is, when one listens to the words of Tom Joad carefully, a call for a more liberal society, an organized society and a society where people are treated equally and where the distribution of wealth is balanced and fair. Perhaps the film is simply so "down home" that many don't catch it...perhaps Fonda's delivery is so gentle and compassionate that we can't hear it...but, it is there. Tom Joad is, indeed, a deeply flawed man who has done wrong deeds but justifies them in the name of justice for all.
The "Grapes of Wrath" continues to resonate deeply within me each time I watch it. Henry Fonda has long been one of my favorite male actors, and this is one of his shining moments.