Grapes of Wrath


With summer winding down and my return to college looming in sight I felt in a melancholy mood this afternoon. So I decided to watch a movie that appropriately matched my sadness over the end of summer.

grey Grapes of Wrath

Theatrical Poster

I looked at my list of 100 movies to watch and settled upon the bleak 1940 adaption of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”.  Since I had a rough understanding of the story line, I thought I knew what to expect. In short summary, a large family is forced to leave Oklahoma and move west to California due to the onslaught of the Dust Bowl and the Depression. Once they reach California things only get worse as jobs are scarce and there is not enough money to feed the children. Besides economic and financial hardships the people already living in Cali are determined to rid themselves of the new influx of migrant workers by any means necessary. Twenty minutes into the movie as a sat there, arms wrapped around my knees, wailing in misery as the tears pooled around me, I realized just how PAINFUL this movie can be for the viewer. The clear illustration of the migrant worker lifestyle and the horrible circumstances that beset this particular family never seem to end.

The cinematography was excellent throughout and the actors portrayed their characters with absolute conviction. Personally my favorite performance came from Ma Joad (Jane Darwell), who played the mother patriarch in the family. While the men were always getting in trouble and running off when things got tough, she was right there holding the family together as best she could. It was her scene towards the beginning of the movie where she was going through memorabilia from her life and tossing it in the fire because it could not be taken west that absolutely got the tears flowing. Not to mention this famous speech towards the end of the movie that truly captures the spirit of Tom and the motherly love of Ma.

grey Grapes of Wrath

Jane Darwell as Ma Joad

Movies from this time period certainly are hit and miss in my opinion. Casablanca, YES!  It’s a Wonderful Life, NO.  Grapes of Wrath however struck a chord deep inside me and I could not tear my eyes away from this black and white masterpiece that allowed me to see a period of American history wedged between two World Wars that is unfortunately largely forgotten.