Rank on the AFI List: #23
WHAT I ALREADY KNEW ABOUT THE MOVIE:
The only things I knew was that it starred Henry Fonda and was based on a book of the same name. I also had some pre-conceived notions that it took place in the deep South, was probably pretty boring, and quite depressing.
LET ME EXPLAIN...
Out of my aforementioned pre-conceived notions, I was only correct about one of them. No, it was not set in the deep South; it begins in Oklahoma and ends in California. No, it was not boring at all. The 2 hours and 9 minutes were engaging and well-done. And while I was correct that it's a depressing movie, it is also one of the best movies I've ever seen.
I don't even know where to start about what made this so great. One thing I appreciated was the ensemble cast. Every single person in this movie - but particularly the Joad family - seemed born to play their roles. My wife even made the comment afterward that she couldn't tell if they were acting, or if they were just being themselves in the movie. The acting was that great all-around. Ma Joad (played by Jane Darwell, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) was probably my favorite, but Henry Fonda (nominated for Best Actor) was amazing, too. After seeing this and "12 Angry Men", I can now say that I am without question a Henry Fonda fan.
The screenplay was also incredible. There were so many lines that encapsuled what "The Grapes of Wrath" is about. Here's a sampling of some of the lines that I found particularly poignant (though they may seem odd when left on their own and out of context as I'm about to do):
"This is my dirt! It's no good, but it's - it's mine. All mine."
"Seems like the government's got more interest in a dead man than a live one."
"They ain't human. Human being wouldn't live the way they do. Human being couldn't stand to be so miserable."
"Well, maybe it's like Casy says. A fellow ain't got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then..."
Just remembering some of these lines wrenches my heart, which brings me to my next point...
This is the most heart-wrenching movie I have ever seen. For practically the entire film you're seeing people getting "kicked while they're down". They lose practically everything that matters to them, and then they lose even more. They get exploited and taken advantage of, and then discarded like they're nothing. They get beaten down so much that hope is literally all they have left, but even that is almost gone. And in it all, I think that's what makes this such a powerful movie: it's an examination of the human heart, good and bad. There are those who depend on hope (the Joad family), those filled with compassion (the people in the truckstop - one of my favorite scenes, by the way), those drained of compassion (the Californians), and those filled with greed (the exploiters and many of the police).
Why is this a "Top 100" Movie?
This is a timeless story. As I just stated above, it's an examination of the human heart, so while it's set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, "The Grapes of Wrath" does an amazing job of conveying humanity in it's most beautiful and ugly ways. On top of that, the acting was superb, the dialogue was powerful and deep, and I particularly liked the lighting in some scenes where they literally only used the flame of a match or lantern, letting the darkness and shadows take up a significant portion of the shot. This film was also nominated for seven Academy awards in 1940, and won 2 of them (including Best Director).
The only blemish to this movie that my wife and I thought it had was the Socialist message. Granted, this movie came out at a time where workers WERE being exploited in many places around the country, and the Socialist movement hadn't yet been tested and found to be a poor system of government. But nonetheless, I can't give a movie that essentially endorses Socialism a perfect 10/10.
LET ME SUM UP...
I love this movie. It's incredibly powerful and has some of the best all-around acting and dialogue I have seen on film. This is not a movie to watch when you want to laugh (though there are a surprising number of truly funny parts that my wife and I laughed out loud at), and it's definitely not one to watch when you want to be uplifted or cheered up. But if you want to see a truly great film that says a lot about humanity, I highly recommend "The Grapes of Wrath".
MY RATING: 9.5/10
TOTAL # OF FILMED WATCHED: 59
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