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The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

The Joads step right out of the pages of the novel that has shocked millions !

Rating: 10/10

Running Time: 128 minutes

US Certificate: Approved UK Certificate: PG


The Grapes of Wrath was a bestselling novel by John Steinbeck set during the Great Depressing of 1930s America and the movie adaptation was one of those rare occasions where it has become a classic in its own right.

The story follows the Joad family who are evicted from their farm in the Oklahoma Dustbowl by a ruthless corporation and forced by Economic needs to head South to California where they are told work is to be had. Nearly a dozen friends and family pack onto a vehicle and travel cross country and they are beset by money problems and deaths along the way. When they arrive at their destination, it is not the promised land they expected and they meet with masses clamouring for a limited, poorly paid collection of menial jobs with employers and police brutally preying on their labour power. Judging by this synopsis, The Grapes of Wrath really should be the most depressing work imaginable but, somehow, it’s the characters who keep it upbeat with their never-say-die attitude and tight family spirit. The Joads and company are an odd bunch – Tom (Fonda)  is a jailbird, Grandma (Tilbury) is so mean she once ‘nearly beat a pedlar to death with a live chicken’ and there’s also an ex-preacher who’s lost the spirit (Carradine). They are a really easy bunch to root for as they fight against the odds and for each other, with Ma (Darwell) keeping them together and Tom driving them forward with his youthful vigour.

There is no real action or set pieces in The Grapes of Wrath it’s just full of powerful and choice dialogue and encounters from master of Depression-era storytelling John Steinbeck. Very little melodrama gets in the way and we aren’t subjected to any meaningless romances or action sequences added for the benefit of cinema audiences. The film and the book do differ – the ending being a notably contentious issue – but they are both classics in their own right and Ford couldn’t possibly be expected to get all of Steinbeck’s big themes into the film.

This is a tough era of American history that has got the excellent fictional but historically accurate documentation it needs and Steinbeck’s novel and Ford’s film gets good coverage of many people’s experiences – from farmers and families to drifters and strikers. With a release date of 1940 and such a dark era of American history as the subject, it is amazing the film was released at all (except in the Soviet Union, surprisingly, where the poor were deemed to be dressed too well).

It's Got: Choice dialogue and exchanges, a fascinating historical context, a full range of experiences.

It Needs: To be watched as a movie in it's own right.

DVD Extras Packed full of extras with an interesting but bookish commentary, news reels, trailers for this and other classics, documentaries, cast and crew biographies. DVD Extras Rating: 8/10


From classic novel to classic movie, The Grapes of Wrath is the definitive fictional account of the Great Depression.