Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath. B+

Many have cited John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath as an American masterpiece. However, they're mistaken; the real masterpiece is Steinbeck's novel, adapted almost right after being published. It's a long book and a great one, and the scope of it couldn't possibly be translated to film. The movie is limited to just over two hours, and though it gets across the passion of the novel, it lacks the detail that makes the book such a great literary work. A lot has also been altered in the adaptation, especially the end, which uses a brighter part of the story found much earlier in the original novel. I think there are two reasons for this: first, John Ford always tries to show hope in the time of depression, and second, Steinbeck's original ending was far too controversial for Hollywood back in 1940. The Grapes of Wrath is flawlessly cast, particularly in the decision to have Henry Fonda play the hero, Tom Joad. Fonda has given plenty of great performances, but are any of them as good as this? One of the central concerns with the novel on its initial release was Steinbeck's nod to Socialism, and in the eyes of some, Communism (that talk of one's soul will really have right-wingers scratching their heads). But these messages are tamed by Ford, who was quite the Conservative Hollywood director. I loved the book, and I admired the movie. That's about what I expected. I think it's definitely one of Ford's better movies, but the main strengths of the film are a result of Steinbecks' classic prose.

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