I see many comparisons in this 1940 movie to our modern country’s split. What do you think. These are desperate times for many. We shouldn’t ignore that. Things change when the haves become the have nots. My wife and I watched “The Grapes of Wrath” recently and while it seemed old at first, it packed some relevant, powerful and therapeutic messages for me. The adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel was about the Joads, a family from Oklahoma, traveling in the 40’s to find work. It is during the ferocious dust bowl period that made farmers’ land fallow.
Those who once owned the farms were now vagrant/migrant workers. The greed and selfishness of the banks and landowners is an eerie backdrop to this realistic fiction. With our country in such financial crisis it seems it could return to this. Maybe it’s not so bad to be afraid of that. Maybe we need that fear to bring about change as working people.
The whole aura of the movie always gets to me emotionally because this might as well be my family. My grandpa came to Bakersfield, CA from Arkansas when my dad was just a kid. Certainly my dad was younger than Tom Joad being born in 1945. Still, I see the Joads as “my people.” I see them as all America’s people, especially right now in 2018. It is quite a powerful movie when you really connect with the messages. Those messages are about life, death, family, faith, hard work, and government. This is about survival. An account of a depression-era family’s migration to the greener pastures of California based on the novel by John Steinbeck.
As we get started: Here’s the original trailer for this film from the 1940’s.
This is a review that contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen The Grapes of Wrath, go see it then come back and listen.
Section 1 (set up audio clip)
As it begins, Tom Joad is oujust out of prison and is hitchhiking back to his father’s farm in Oklahoma, Even now you see siginificant symbols showing what we might now call the “Haves and have Not” In a similar way we have an employed and an unemployed: the great separator of this time even now. Tom already has a black mark on him early in life and he’s not hiding it that’s for sure. What makes the working man more deserving than the unemployed hungry man? That question comes up here again and again in the great depression of the 1930’s. I’d say there needs to be a form of welfare so Americans don’t starve. Not a handout that never ends but a hand up, some relief. The stories of powerty get to me in this film. How about the fate of a convict? Henry Fonda messes with the cautious truck driver, tells him he’s guilty of “HOMICIDE.” Is it helpful to have an attitude out of prison? Would it do any good to have a better attitude? Most convicts can’t find work You get a real feel for the calllousness of Tom Joad as the hitchhiker challenging the skeptical truck driver. Check out this clip:
Below this lines are show notes and a script, it has not been proofread.
Tom meets Muley Graves (John Qualen) who is hiding out. Muley explains through a flashback about how so many were forced from their farms. This is one of the horrors of this film, and it is historical, real. They hear Californi is the land of milk and honey and set out in a dilapidated truck with the whole Joad family. They are filled with hope
The trip along Highway 66 is painful arduous, and it soon takes a toll on the Joad family. The aging and sick Grandpa (Charley Grapewin) dies along the way. Tom writes the circumstances surrounding the death on a page from the family Bible and places it on the body before they bury it so that if his remains were found, he would not be investigated as a homicide. They park in a camp and meet a man, a migrant returning from California, who laughs at Pa’s optimism about conditions in California. He speaks bitterly about his experiences in the West. Grandma (Zeffie Tilbury) dies when the reach California, the son Noah (Frank Sully) and son-in-law Connie (Eddie Quillan) also leave the family group.
The family arrives at the first transient migrant campground for workers and finds the camp is crowded with other starving, jobless and desperate travelers. Their truck slowly makes its way through the dirt road between the shanty houses and around the camp’s hungry-faced inhabitants. Tom says, “Sure don’t look none too prosperous.”
After some trouble with a so-called “agitator”, the Joads leave the camp in a hurry.
The Joads make their way to another migrant camp, the Keene Ranch. After doing some work in the fields, they discover the high food prices in the company store for meat and other products. The store is the only one in the area, by a long shot. Favorite scene: When the Joads ask to buy a loaf of bread for a dime in a diner. They are told the bread is 15 cents a loaf and not for sale anyway. This being all they had, the storekeeper lets them have it for 10 and lies about how much the candy costs so the Joad kids can have some swirl sticks. The movie is great from beginning to end, but that scene is forever etched into my mind.
Bread begging clip
Later they find a group of migrant workers are striking, and Tom wants to find out all about it. He goes to a secret meeting in the dark woods. When the meeting is discovered, Casy is killed by one of the camp guards. As Tom tries to defend Casy from the attack, he inadvertently kills the guard.
Tom suffers a serious wound on his cheek, and the camp guards realize it will not be difficult to identify him. That evening the family hides Tom under the mattresses of the truck just as guards arrive to question them; they are searching for the man who killed the guard. Tom avoids being spotted and the family leaves the Keene Ranch without further incident. After driving for a while, they have to stop at the top of a hill when the engine overheats due to a broken fan belt; they have little gas, but decide to try coasting down the hill to some lights. The lights are from a third type of camp: Farmworkers’ Wheat Patch Camp (Weedpatch in the book), a clean camp run by the Department of Agriculture, complete with indoor toilets and showers, which the Joad children had never seen before. Tom is moved to work for change by what he has witnessed in the various camps. He tells his family that he plans to carry on Casy’s mission in the world by fighting for social reform. He leaves to seek a new world and to join the movement committed to social justice.
Tom Joad says:
I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.
As the family moves on again, they discuss the fear and difficulties they have had. Ma Joad concludes the film, saying:
I ain’t never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn’t have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and
nobody cared…. Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out, but we keep a-coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cos we’re the people.