“Seems like the government’s got more interest in a dead man than a live one.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that “Ford worked closely with cinematographer Gregg Toland, whose images are beautiful”: there are “magnificent shots of Tom moving across the landscape, of beautifully lit faces, of characters in close-up speaking powerful words”; film critic Andrew Sarris referred to Ford as “America’s cinematic poet laureate”, and the imagery in this film (see stills below) provides ample evidence of this assertion. Peary ends his Alternate Oscars review by noting simply that “the film succeeds on all levels” — including the “fine, simple score” by Alfred Newman; Nunnally Johnson’s “terrific script” (which Steinbeck himself approved of); and excellent performances by the “impeccably cast” supporting players — including the “unforgettable” “John Carradine as Casy, John Qualen as Muley, and Charley Grapewin as Grandpa”, as well as “heavy-set Jane Darwell, an Irish actress [who] made the part [of Ma] her own”.
But it’s Fonda’s performance as Tom Joad which truly grounds the film. In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Henry Fonda Best Actor of the Year for his work here, and I agree with this assessment. Following his impressive turn as the title character in Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Fonda gives an impassioned, nuanced performance as an ex-con who, during the beginning of the movie, “is neither emotional nor sentimental” and who “minds his own business”, yet by the end of the film has “come alive”, “become more expressive”, and turned politically “subversive”. Tom’s evolving understanding of labor conditions in America — inspired by his friend, former-preacher Casy (John Carradine), and informed by what he’s seen in dismal labor camps across the country — eventually radicalizes him, giving him a cause truly worth fighting for. His closing speech — as he explains to his Ma why he must leave his family for a while — is a fitting ending to this powerful tale of humanity at both its worst and its best:
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)