The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Novelist John Steinbeck’s great chronicle of Depression-era America reached the screen in director John Ford’s stark and powerful adaptation.

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“The message is boldly displayed, but told with characters of such sympathy and images of such beauty that audiences leave the theater feeling more pity than anger or resolve.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 2002

Primarily identified with the Western genre, and responsible for many of its great classics – among them Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956) – director John Ford won the second of his four Oscars for this 1930s-set chronicle of the westward migration of poverty-stricken farmers, turned off their land in the Oklahoma dustbowl and heading in hope for California.

John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel shocked its contemporary readers by revealing the cruel flipside of the American dream. The screen version matched it by casting Henry Fonda, who so often played paragons of homespun virtue, as central character Tom Joad, an ordinary man driven by economic injustice to political awakening and violent resistance.

Gregg Toland’s striking high-contrast black-and-white cinematography lends the drama a truly elemental aspect.

Other notable screen transfers of Steinbeck’s fiction include Of Mice and Men (1939 and 1992), The Red Pony (1949) and East of Eden (1955).

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