The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
John Ford won the second of his record four Best Director Academy Awards for this Depression era drama from John Steinbeck’s novel about the Joads and other families of Oklahoma sharecroppers whose decades old farms were destroyed by the Dust Bowl their migration west (in an overloaded jalopy-truck) to California a place purported to be “the land of milk and honey” and their disillusionment about the American dream. Jane Darwell won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (on her only nomination) for her role as Ma Joad the family matriarch whose last words are perhaps the film’s most optimistic. Henry Fonda received his first nomination (Best Actor) as Tom Joad (voted AFI’s #12 hero even though his character is an ex-con that struggles to stay out of trouble during much of the story). Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck the film was nominated for Best Picture so was its Editing (Robert L. Simpson’s only Academy recognition) Sound and associate producer Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay. It appears at #21 on AFI’s Greatest Movies list #7 on AFI’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies list and was added to the National Film Registry in 1989.
The cast is chock full of recognizable character actors whose performances – along with Gregg Toland’s (Wuthering Heights (1939)) dark cinematography – help to convey the squalid conditions of the situation and bleak outlook of the time. John Carradine plays the former preacher Casy who makes the journey with the Joads. Charley Grapewin plays Grandpa whose depression about his reality contributes to his failing health while Russell Simpson plays his son and Fonda’s Pa Joad. John Qualen gives the best of his prolific career as Muley whose driven crazy by losing the land he and his family had tended for 70 years. Others in the credited cast are Dorris Bowdon O.Z. Whitehead Eddie Quillan Zeffie Tilbury Frank Sully Frank Darien child actor Darryl Hickman Grant Mitchell as the caretaker of a most unusual (almost commune-like) Department of Agriculture facility Ford company regular Ward Bond as a policeman Selmer Jackson Charles Middleton Paul Guilfoyle as an agitator Cliff Clark Joe Sawyer Frank Faylen and Irving Bacon.