The Grapes of Wrath

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The actors deliver John Steinbeck's words while staring into the hazy middle distance; they seem to be offering a kind of incantatory spell, too aware of the weight of the text. Henry Fonda, playing hard-bitten Okie Tom Joad, will be "everywhere, wherever there's a fight." Jane Darwell, an Oscar winner for her Ma Joad, will "go on forever"; she's "the people." (This, by the way, is not how to make a subtle adaptation.)

The actors deliver John Steinbeck's words while staring into the hazy middle distance; they seem to be offering a kind of incantatory spell, too aware of the weight of the text. Henry Fonda, playing hard-bitten Okie Tom Joad, will be "everywhere, wherever there's a fight." Jane Darwell, an Oscar winner for her Ma Joad, will "go on forever"; she's "the people." (This, by the way, is not how to make a subtle adaptation.)

And still, The Grapes of Wrath works. It builds up a head of steam in its scenes of migrant-worker violence, and delivers a terrific lefty roundhouse early on, when humiliated evictee Muley Graves (Qualen, also the touched convict in His Girl Friday) reaches down to the earth and seizes it for those who "died on it."

Like Nixon going to China, the movie required the affiliation of a conservative, director John Ford, to get off the ground. Even then, some soft-pedaling was done on Nunnally Johnson's script (including a radically revised ending). No matter: There is resonance here for those who want it. Mounted only a year after the novel's publication, the film version might have come too soon. But to have a modern-day Hollywood this strident and nervy! They can't wipe us out. They can't lick us.

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Release details

Duration: 129 mins

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