Dir: John Ford (Wagon Master)
I know I am supposed to critique a movie within the technological and cultural possibilities of the times. It makes no sense to look at the original King Kong and say it was a bad film because it wasn't as visually stunning as the remake. You work with what is available at the time.
And I also realize that filming this novel was itself a risky political move, with its fierce defense of unionization and the rights of workers. For that, Ford is to be commended. But I had forgotten about the cardinal sin of this film, the glaring omission of the novel's stroke of genius at the end. Seeing it for the second time, I remembered my anger at leaving out the final scene, so intense that I run the risk of hating the film.
This is entirely a product of my reverance for Steinbeck's book, without a doubt one of the most moving and technically perfect works of fiction ever created. It is definitely on my short list of favorite novels, and I am protective of it. And I know that I am commiting a Kong fallacy by expecting them to put that final scene into a film from 1940. But I can't help myself.
Other than that, The Grapes of Wrath is tremendous. Fonda is the perfect Tom Joad, cold and distant but intense and powerful. The entire family is cast of chracter actors who convincingly pull off the desperate poverty of the family. The politics remain strong yet seductive, just like in the book. And Ford has really pulled off a triumph with his camera. If you have never experienced the candlelight scene near the beginning of the film, you don't understand what lighting can do for a picture. Numerous examples of great camera work are rife in this film.
My gut reaction, though, is anger; not at Ford but at the times. That such common sense subject matter would be controversial is one thing; but censoring such a moving image of human compassion and desperation as Steinbeck's ending is a real crime.