The Grapes of Wrath

Directed by John Ford

> > May 2004

The Grapes of Wrath - Directed by John Ford
By James KeastA new DVD issue of John Ford's classic 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath does proper justice to this monument of film history. An adaptation of John Steinbeck's famous novel, Ford's Grapes emphasises the more human side of this story of Depression-era farmers who trek across the country in search of sharecropping land or picking jobs, only to find destitute encampments of desperate Americans. Henry Ford stars as Tom Joad, fresh from prison and burdened with responsibility for his whole family. He leads the family on a journey in search of prosperity, while his own journey evolves into a political awakening. Unlike many of John Ford's sweeping Western epics (Stagecoach, The Searchers), The Grapes of Wrath is an intimate, human story with little hope and less opportunity. Its closeness is brilliantly captured here, in one of the most beautifully photographed films ever made, by Gregg Tolland, who would go on the next year to shoot Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. The documentary feel that Tolland achieves gives an incredible weight to the drama unfolding here; viewers to this day feel more like quiet observers to events, rather than audiences for a melodrama. The proof of this meticulous restoration comes built into the DVD, with a digital transfer comparison that outlines exactly what work needed to be done on the film — made even more complicated by the fact that the original negative has been lost. Greater perspective on producer and studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck comes in the form of an A&E Biography included here, but the real treat for film geeks and literary types alike is its scholarly commentary track. In it, John Ford scholar Joseph McBride and John Steinbeck expert Susan Shillinglaw discuss the adaptation from book to screen, the power and force of the resulting film, and Ford's own decision to lighten the political weight of the book in favour of the film's "we the people" conclusion. The Grapes of Wrath may not be immediately accessible to a film audience for whom the Great Depression seems as far distant as Napoleon, but through Ford and his remarkably accomplished film, perhaps the lessons of history will not be lost, nor forgotten. Plus: Movietone reports on the Depression; still gallery; more. (Fox)
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