Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath made into a film – archive, 1940 | Film

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London, Tuesday
“They can’t lick us; we’re the people,” says Ma Joad in the closing sequence of The Grapes of Wrath. She is more articulate in the film than she was in the pages of Steinbeck’s novel, and she need not have been, for direction, photography, casting, and acting have done their work by then. The film has shown, for two hours, the march past of the nameless ones who are born and suffer and die. They are the people, and they need no label.

Because Steinbeck’s book was so widely read and so much admired the film has had to stick close to plot and incident, yet sheer of from censorable rawness, and cut here and there to keep length within bounds. And so the film loses rhythm; it is jerky and shapeless, where the same director’s Stagecoach had smooth form and swinging pace.

Occasionally, too, there is a stiffness of dialogue. But John Ford has recognised his opportunities: the Oklahoma dust-bowl, the glimpse of the promised land across the Colorado River, and the journey between, in that covered wagon that has become a jalopy piled high with family mattresses, taking not now the road across the prairies but Highway 66 to a land where there are work and food.

No documentary film has had sequences so movingly authentic as those here of the sprawling, squalid camps where the unwanted, harried, hopeless Okies starve amongst the peach orchards and orange groves of California. Here are the refugees of a nation at peace, and Europe in the last ten months has shown nothing so hideous. The caterpillar tractors that advance across the dusty plains to turn off the share croppers are as conscienceless as tanks. The casting of the film is as exact as anything that the Russians have done, and the acting is irreproachable.

If a name must be picked from the cast list, let it be that of John Qualen for his most moving playing of a small part. The principals – Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine – are no better than he and are excellent. The Grapes of Wrath, which will be at the Odeon, Leicester Square, next week, must be seen not only by filmgoers but by all those here who want to know what the American people is made of.

Source: The Guardian
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