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IB Film - Case Studies
The Grapes of Wrath
Director John Ford

Released in 1940 

Country: USA 

Genre: Drama

Synopsis: After serving four years in prison for killing a man, Tom Joad heads back to the family farm in Oklahoma. On his way he meets Casy, a former preacher who has lost his faith. The pair finds the farm deserted. Tom decides to leave Oklahoma with his family and head to California to look for work. The family settles in a shack and picks peaches for five cents a box. 



When released, the film was well received by the film critics, but it did have its detractors especially due to the leftist political overtones of the film. Film critic Frank S. Nugent, writing for The New York Times, liked the film's screenplay, the direction of the film and the acting. He wrote, "In the vast library where the celluloid literature of the screen is stored there is one small, uncrowded shelf devoted to the cinema's masterworks, to those films which by dignity of theme and excellence of treatment seem to be of enduring artistry, seem destined to be recalled not merely at the end of their particular year but whenever great motion pictures are mentioned. The movie was based on John Steinbeck's novel, the most effective social document of the 1930s, and it was directed by a filmmaker who had done more than any other to document the Westward movement of American settlement. John Ford was the director of "The Iron Horse" (1924), about the dream of a railroad to the West, and made many other films about the white migration into Indian lands, including his Cavalry trilogy ("Fort Apache," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "Rio Grande"). When critic Bosley Crowther retired in 1967, he named The Grapes of Wrath one of the best fifty films ever made. (N.B.: 40% of the works Crowther named were not American-made, so he was placing this work in a large context.) In a film review written for Time magazine by its editor Whittaker Chambers, an outspoken opponent of communism, he separated his views of Steinbeck's novel from Ford's film, which he liked. Chambers wrote, "But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book...Camera craft purged the picture of the editorial rash that blotched the Steinbeck book. Cleared of excrescences, the residue is a great human story which made thousands of people, who damned the novel's phony conclusions, read it. It is the saga of an authentic U.S. farming family who lose their land. They wander, they suffer, but they endure. They are never quite defeated, and their survival is itself a triumph."

Yoon-Jee Kim




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