John Ford’s own understanding and fondness of the American people and their history is no more evident than in his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. It is one of the important motion pictures ever that dealt with the physical and psychological hardship and social dislocation caused by the Great Depression. Based on the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (first published in 1939) by John Steinbeck, it follows the story of the Joad family, who get kicked off their land in Oklahoma, and are forced to search for a better life in California.
Anyone who’s seen The Grapes of Wrath will undoubtedly remember the film’s famous ending. In short, in the lead up to the film’s final scenes, we find Tom Joad, played by Henry Fonda, on the run from the authorities. He is sickened by the crimes, greed and pain he had witnessed along the ardous journey travelled by the Joad’s from Oklahoma to California. The death of his friend Jim Casy, in particular, sparked Tom into a man of action, hoping to make a difference against the face of authority and injustices of the world. As he prepares to say goodbye, he delivers a final farewell speech to Ma Toad that comes to symbolize the American spirit of the Depression-era.
Interestingly, as Henry Fonda, goes on to deliver one of the greatest cinema scenes in film history, he is aided by nothing more than his wits as an actor, and the clever use of low-key lighting, set up by cinematographer Gregg Toland. It’s almost a travesty that Henry Fonda missed out on an Oscar for his role as Tom. Nonetheless, Fonda will always be fondly remembered for his role as the films antihero.
Photo Credit: The header movie still image of actor Henry Fonda as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath is presumably owned by 20th Century Fox Films. I make use of the image under the rationale of ‘fair use’ to help illustrate arguably one of cinema history’s greatest scenes. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip.