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.
Everyone, including Ford realized they were making an important motion picture and it came as no surprise that Ford made every scene count no matter how important or insignificant. As a filmmaker he certainly knew what he wanted his pictures to look like and used his directorial style to get the best out of his film crew, actors and actresses.Typically, though he clashed with many individuals on set, but no one could begrudge his vision and work ethic to make The Grapes of Wrath a truly remarkable picture. In short, it is said that Ford’s clever appointment of cinematographer Gregg Toland, who gives the film its almost documentary look, was godsend to the artistic success of the film.
For his own efforts, John Ford was awarded an Academy Award for Best Director for The Grapes of Wrath, while actress, Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Although, Henry Fonda missed out on an Oscar, he is fondly remembered for his role as Tom Joad, the films antihero.
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 Joad 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.