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B., E. S. "Social Photoplay." Review of The Grapes of Wrath (film). Sociology and Social Research May 1940: 497.
This film "tones down considerably" the dramatic elements of the book, omits the vulgar language, and ends optimistically instead of pessimistically. It raises the question of what is to be done about this "terrible state of affairs." "The picture signifies that the defeated share-cropper cannot obtain justice in his own local community. The problem calls for interstate, regional, and national planning. Stupidly and brutally handled, the problem creates the spirit of revolution on the part not of 'foreigners' but of our own native-born Americans, native sons and daughters all."
Burton, Thomas. "Wine from These Grapes." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Saturday Review of Literature 10 February 1940: 16.
Burton, like many other fans of the novel feared that the film would not stay true to the novel. Burton was pleasantly surprised. He states that "the motion picture version is a cinema masterwork of immense virility -- a great addition to the very few works of screen literature that have any earthly realities." Ford stays true to the novel in every capacity. He captures the novel's emotions, scenes, and characters. Ford goes beyond capturing the novel; he puts the viewer right into the middle of it. Burton exclaims that "the very smell, the reek of old rubber, the toss and grind of homebuilt jalopy bodies, the dry gagging dust, the heat of the sun, the dreadful hunger of caked faces, the ache of women's bodies, the burning of men as they stare ahead to dreams of future big with portent, the whole surge of farmers going west, has been frozen into celluloid." It is no wonder that the film "at times surpasses [the novel]." Ford's masterpiece makes you "suddenly understand that these rags, these human clots of pain and hope, with their urge to find a better haven, are Americans."
Byrne, M. St. Clare. "Of Novels and Films." Fortnightly October 1940: 409-16.
Byrne's main idea is that the film version did not translate the effectiveness of the novel in captivating an audience. He boldly states that the film not only ignored the "theme and structure" of the novel but that it was, in fact, a complete "failure." It is important that people who understand literature be a part of the film process in order to express each significant part of the novel into the film. However, Byrne stresses that essential details were ignored. One of the major themes in the novel is the fruitfulness of land and the devotion that people feel towards it. However, within the film there is weak photography that barely depicts the dust bowl and there is a lack of imagery to show the fruitfulness of California. While the casting of the characters was successful in the sense that the actors appeared to be a real family, the use of the characters on screen made scenes unorganized and cluttered. Many notable characters in the novel barely had any significance in the film. By in large, Byrne makes it evident that there was not much effort to correlate the movie to the novel and key parts that made Grapes of Wrath so appealing to the public were completely ignored in the on-screen version.
Condon, Frank. "The Grapes of Raps." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Colliers 27 January 1940: 23ff.
Condon mainly focuses on director Ford and producer Zanuck. Steinbeck's novel was controversial from the start. Turning the storyline into a movie would prove more difficult, as there was no guarantee of it being a success. Yet, according to Condon, it took a special director and producer to keep it from failing. Condon explains how they took a small offer to produce the movie and spent even more money, with the hopes and expectations that the revenue would return their costs. Still, Ford and Zanuck used people off the streets of California in shooting their film, highlighting direct sources of their characters. For their unconventional methods in creating this film, Condon gives all praise to Ford and Zanuck for making it successful. Chiefly, Condon pleads that the director and producer of this movie be applauded for the success of the movie, not Steinbeck's storyline itself.
Ferguson, Otis. "Show for the People." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. New Republic 12 February 1940: 212.
Ferguson's praise begins with the story line. He credits Nunnally Johnson's adaptation of the book, saying it "refuse(s) any compromise with prettiness or the usual romantic" -- it didn't sacrifice any of the raw nature of the story for commercial appeal. Ferguson applauds the daringness of the movie (as it was quite controversial in its day), saying "There is no country in the world where such a film could be made today -- even made badly, let alone with such a smash that people pack into theaters to see it, and take it away home with them after." Each part of production -- the acting, the screenplay, the editing and camera work, even the costumes and set design -- are articulately and skillfully done. He praises the unique camera work, using long shots and differentlighting to give the movie its raw, original feel. The minimalist approach to the music score was a wise choice. Ferguson says that Ford is "not afraid to let silence be eloquent as it should be." He goes on to praise the outstanding acting, and finally he acknowledges the risk and courage that went into the production, with its controversial story and budget. An impassioned and enthusiastic review.
Hoellering, Franz. "Films." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Nation 3 February 1940: 137-38.
With Grapes a new period in the development of American moving-picture art could begin. Ford again "triumphs"; The Grapes of Wrath sets a new precedent in American cinema. The only complaint is that because the film was not designated "super-production" status, so much of the original work had to be cut from Nunnally Johnson's "skillfully" written script. Both the lead and supporting cast, which acted "equally perfectly," were not "allowed" to play some of the most emotional scenes from Steinbeck's original novel. This eagerly awaited movie version is one Hollywood production you cannot afford to miss.
Locke, Edwin. "John Ford's Grapes of Wrath." Reprinted Celluloid Power: Social Film Criticism from The Birth of a Nation to Judgment at Nuremberg. Ed. David Platt. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1992.
Locke presents a very complimentary yet critical review of the film. While he does not hesitate to identify and critique the film's shortcomings, Locke gives credit where credit is due. He praises director John Ford's sense of people, the casting of Henry Fonda, and the lasting, moving statement that the picture presents. However, Locke criticizes aspects of the film including Ford's sense of environment, a mediocre musical score, and the "unhappy selection of Charley Grapewin as Grampa." While he is very exacting and blunt with his criticisms, the overall tone of the review is a positive one. Statements such as "Those words are a simple summary of The Grapes of Wrath, and the proof of the picture's greatness lies in the fact that it is as simple, as dignified, and as moving as the statement of one of the people" reinforce Locke's acclaim and approval of the film.
Lorentz, Pare. Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Lorentz on Film: Movies 1927 to 1941. New York: Hopkinson and Blake, 1975.
Lorentz has much praise, especially since the film stays true to the novel. However, this alone cannot allow him to "agree with the critics that this itself makes the picture the greatest movie of all time." While the movie stays true to the novel, "the picture does not have the same simplicity, ease and unity it might have had because of errors on the part of the adapter, the director and producer." Specifically, Lorentz notes that Johnson fails to capture and "re-create" the landscape of the mid-west by filming in Zion Park in Utah, where he focused more on making "a Western action picture into a thing of beauty." A better actress could have been selected for Ma Joad, and she could have been portrayed as more of a heroine -- as she is in the novel. Overall, it is "quite a movie," "fantastic in scope, extraordinary in detail, played better than any movie I've ever seen." Specifically, the scene in which Pa tries to buy bread is the best in the film and made him want to cry. Lorentz has much praise for this epic film and only criticizes it to illustrate that while it may be an amazing film, it does possess flaws and is not perfect.
Nugent, Frank S. "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Twentieth Century-Fox Shows a Flawless Film Edition of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath.'" Review of The Grapes of Wrath. New York Times 25 January 1940: 17.
In a glowingly positive review, Nugent claims the movie "Is just about as good as any picture has a right to be; if it were any better, we just wouldn't believe our eyes." His enthusiasm for the cast radiates off the pages as he asserts that all the actors are of "uniform excellence and suitability." Nugent applauds the movie's adapter, Nunnally Johnson, for staying true to Steinbeck's original tone and message: "[The movie] has followed [the book] so well that no one who has read and admired it should complain of the manner of its screen telling." After three pages of adoration, it seems that Nugent still can't commend the movie enough, from the shot of the "first of a series of Hoovervilles, with a litter of humans and dogs and crates in its path, and the eloquence of their mute testimony to poverty and disillusion and the degradation of the human spirit," to the camera's ability to capture "the pain of surrendering the land and the hopelessness of trying to resist the tractors" through Muley's eyes.
Nugent, Frank. "About 'The Grapes of Wrath.'" Review of The Grapes of Wrath. New York Times 28 January 1940: 5.
Though a "social consciousness" film, Grapes is absolutely entertaining, "never less than absorbing." Significant theme, honesty of treatment -- "a reminder that the screen can be -- and sometimes is -- the most potent medium of expression of our day."
Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Life 22 January 1940: 29-31.
Ford directs a film that is "bitter, authentic, honest, [that] marches straight to its tragic end with a reality that suggests a superb newsreel." Life applauds the director for creating a movie that is honest and sincere. The film accurately portrays the true ugliness of the dust bowl incident in American history. A difficult journey to look for work leads to more adversity and hard times after California proves to be a false Eden. A censored or unrealistic film would have not done justice for the Americans who suffered.
Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Time 12 February 1940: 70.,9171,884004-2,00.html
The film "will be a red rag to bull-mad Californians who may or may not boycott it. Others, who were merely annoyed at the exaggerations, propaganda and phony pathos of John Steinbeck's best selling novel, may just stay away. Pinkos who did not bat an eye when the Soviet Government exterminated 3,000,000 peasants by famine, will go for a good cry over the hardships of the Okies. But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book. . . . Ma is the important thing in The Grapes of Wrath, for Ma begins as one thing, ends as another. A bewildered, homeless, heartbroken woman when the picture opens, at its close she is an immovable force, holding the crumbling family together against things she does not even understand, against agitators as well as deputies. . . . Ma is a great tragic character of the screen, even her victory is tragic. She can win it only by losing everything. But faced with hunger, homelessness, death, she sees that none of these was important. Ma is the incarnation of the dignity of human being, and the courage to assert it against odds."
Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Scholastic 5 February 1940: 36.
"Let's not mince words: The Grapes of Wrath is a great motion picture. . . . When Darryl F. Zanuck purchased the film rights to the Steinbeck novel, many doubts were expressed. Some critics thought the film production would be 'prettied up'; others argued -- and still do -- that the story is not suitable screen material: too crude and to exaggerated. The film, in its present form, is still tough, but not crude. It is still of a controversial nature, but it will provoke thought, as well as argument."
"The Saga of the Okies." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Newsweek 12 February 1940: 37-38.
Despite controversy over Zanuck's movie rendition, the reviewer supports the direction this film takes completely. The harshest criticism, coming from citizens living in the West, perceives Steinbeck's book as an inaccurate plight of the Okies. They believe the struggles faced by the migrant workers have been overstated. Newsweek's writer dismisses the harsh criticism over the film's inaccurate portrayal of California migrant workers by claiming it to be "one of the screen's greatest films." Although the original ending has been dropped and certain scenes changed, this reviewer believes Zanuck's changes "heighten the dramatic effect."
Whitebait, William. "A Fine Film." Review of The Grapes of Wrath. New Statesman and Nation 27 July 1940: 87.
Whitebait likes the film very much, comparing it to such great films as Potemkin, Mother, and Kameradschaft. The truck-camp scene captures the message in its entirety: "Every detail rasps: the barbed wire fence and the cops with guns, the stream of new arrivals in the dusk, the harried unfocused look on an old woman's face as she gazes from a doorway, the children nimble and silent. A dog's bark in the distance makes each detail twice as piercing." In any other film these details "would have been incidental, but here, by its quality of realism, [they] become essential." Although the film focuses on one family's journey across the country, the Joad family's story "in no way differs from countless others which come and go on the screen and the story might as well be theirs." The Joad family represents all American families stricken by social and economic hardship and, on this note, Whitebait suggests a link to communism.
Wright, Basil. Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Spectator 26 July 1940: 92.
With few exceptions, cinema has been abused as a source of hollow entertainment, but Grapes compares with such films as Pudovkin's Mother, Griffith's Isn't Life Wonderful, and Stroheim's Greed. Ford's film "o'ertops them all as the sun the stars." Grapes excludes all political and fiscal considerations; it's a "Burning, violent, and terrific affirmation of the decency of human nature." The film opens the audience's eyes to the struggle of the dust-bowl farmers and causes the emergence of social guilt. It is impertinent to bring up the production values of the film as the message goes beyond that.

See Also

Review of The Grapes of Wrath. Commonweal 9 February 1940: 348.