23 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Al Joad: Ain’t you gonna look back, Ma? Give the ol’ place a last look?
Ma Joad: We’re going’ to California, ain’t we? All right then let’s go to California.
Al Joad: That don’t sound like you, Ma. You never was like that before.
Ma Joad: I never had my house pushed over before. Never had my family stuck out on the road. Never had to lose everything I had in life.
Seen before?

R: No.

F: Nope.

Thoughts?

R: Some of the older films on this list have felt like they’ve lost a bit of their relevance or power over the years, but this really worked for me. I think a lot of that is down to how well observed it feels. All the little period details are probably more fascinating today than they would have been on release.

F: It also feels like this is more about characters than plot which often ages better. For me, I’m not sure if this works. I can’t find much to fault but nothing much to rave about either. I actually found it a bit dull in parts. Is that unfair?

R: I actually think there’s a good balance between the plot and the character development. You have the dramatic tension of what’s going to happen to this family as they head out west, alongside the interest of getting to know the family. It’s fair to say it’s a little slow in places (in those moments when the emphasis shifts from the plot to character development) but that didnt really bother me because I enjoyed the characters and the performances so much.

F: I did find some of the conversations unrealistic, which is a problem here because the film is so set in realism. I just think people don’t talk to each other the way these characters do. That’s almost certainly come from the source material though (which I’ve never read).

R: I’d argue that the dialogue here is more realistic than any of the other films we’ve seen from the 1940s, and I think you’ve just got to accept these older films will always feel more staged than 21st century films do. What’s more important to me is whether the dialogue is interesting, and while the soliloquies might sometimes feel a bit unnatural, I always wanted to hear more from the characters.

F: I think that has a lot to do with the performances which are all strong. I know Henry Fonda is the main star here but actually it felt more of an ensemble.

R: Agreed. Among the ensemble I’d say Jane Marwell as Ma Joad is worth singling out. You really feel her wrestling with what’s best for her family and the weight of looking after everybody.

F: Yes she’s great. Have you read the book? I haven’t but was doing a bit of reading online about it and it seems like there’s a lot of religious imagery in this. Including the title which did confuse me where it had come from! Did you pick up on any of that?

R: No, I’ve not read the book, and I guess I was more interested in what the film had to say politically than religiously. But now you mention it, there is a character with the initials J.C. who ends up sacrificing himself to inspire the people around him! I expect there are other more subtle things though if you’re looking for them…

F: Yes I don’t want this to turn into an exam essay!

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: Very watchable, thought-provoking, with many layers. Has to be a yes.

F: Not for me. It needed to do more to win me round I think.

Up next:
22 – Some Like It Hot (1959)
Previously:
24 – E.T. (1982)

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