The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

129 mins | Drama | 15 March 1940

Director:

John Ford

Cinematographer:

Gregg Toland

Editor:

Robert Simpson

Production Designers:

Richard Day, Mark-Lee Kirk

Production Company:

Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Fox paid John Steinbeck $70,000 for the rights to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Steinbeck insisted that the studio add a clause to his contract stating that "the producer agrees that any motion picture based on the said literary property shall fairly and reasonably retain the main action and social intent of the said literary property." The film diverged from the novel most significantly in its ending. The celebrated speech of "Ma Joad," which ends the film ("We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out--they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people"), is actually taken from a chapter in the novel that appears approximately two-thirds of the way through. (In the novel, Ma says, "Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on.") The novel ends as "Rosasharn" gives birth to a dead baby and then nurses a famished old man with the milk from her breasts. (This scene was included in the 1988 stage version of the story.) Associate producer and writer Nunnally Johnson, as quoted in a modern source, stated, "There had to be some ray of hope--something that would keep the people who saw it from going out and getting so drunk in utter despondency that they couldn't tell other people that it was a good picture to see. Steinbeck agreed on the necessity for a more hopeful ending." Although some modern sources have stated that studio head Darryl Zanuck wrote the ... More Less

According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Fox paid John Steinbeck $70,000 for the rights to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Steinbeck insisted that the studio add a clause to his contract stating that "the producer agrees that any motion picture based on the said literary property shall fairly and reasonably retain the main action and social intent of the said literary property." The film diverged from the novel most significantly in its ending. The celebrated speech of "Ma Joad," which ends the film ("We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out--they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people"), is actually taken from a chapter in the novel that appears approximately two-thirds of the way through. (In the novel, Ma says, "Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on.") The novel ends as "Rosasharn" gives birth to a dead baby and then nurses a famished old man with the milk from her breasts. (This scene was included in the 1988 stage version of the story.) Associate producer and writer Nunnally Johnson, as quoted in a modern source, stated, "There had to be some ray of hope--something that would keep the people who saw it from going out and getting so drunk in utter despondency that they couldn't tell other people that it was a good picture to see. Steinbeck agreed on the necessity for a more hopeful ending." Although some modern sources have stated that studio head Darryl Zanuck wrote the final scene of the film, the only screenplays in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also at UCLA, dated 13 Jul 1939 and 31 Jul 1939, are by Johnson, and both include a final scene very similar to that which was in the film. Modern sources have also stated that during pre-production, Zanuck sent a team of investigators to check on the veracity of Steinbeck's account of the migrant workers' plight and was informed that conditions were actually much worse than those conveyed in the novel. The controversy surrounding the publication of Steinbeck's novel, which was banned in many places and condemned by the California Chamber of Commerce, resurfaced when Twentieth Century-Fox announced its intention to film the story. The Agricultural Council of California and the Associated Farmers of California began a publicity campaign against Fox in rural newspapers, calling for a boycott of the studio's films.
       According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA, on 29 Sep 1939, informed Fox that although the script for The Grapes of Wrath conformed to the provisions of the Production Code, a number of potential censorship problems had to be addressed. The list of suggested alterations or eliminations included a warning "not to characterize Muley as insane," the rewording of "certain of the lines which have reference to Rosasharn's pregnancy," the removal of a "toilet gag about Grandma," the elimination of "specific mention of Tulare County [California]" and a request not to identify a town as "Pixley." It was also suggested that the film not show "Tom killing the deputy in self-defense." A modern source quotes Zanuck as having said, in May 1939, "If they [the Hays Office] interfere with this picture I'm going to take full-page ads in the papers and print our correspondence."
       According to a Sep 1939 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox put in a request for the loan of Spencer Tracy for the part of Tom even though the studio had already announced Henry Fonda for the spot. Although some modern sources note that Zanuck originally wanted Tyrone Power for the part of Tom, and later considered Don Ameche for the part, there is no official record indicating that this was the case in the Fox legal files or elsewhere. Fonda was cast in the role two weeks prior to the start of production and signed to a seven-year contract with the studio. A HR pre-release news item noted that actress Patricia Doyle was cast in a "supporting role to Henry Fonda," but she did not appear in the released film. Although HR noted that Henry King and his "migratory workers' orchestra from Weed Patch, CA," were set to perform in the picture, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Rex Lease, Inez Palange and Harry Tenbrook to the cast, and note that Beulah Bondi was tested for the role of Ma Joad. Bondi, believing that she had the part, reportedly bought an old jalopy and moved to Bakersfield to live among the migrant workers in order to study for the role.
       Studio publicity material contained in the file on the film in the AMPAS Library notes that director John Ford banned all makeup and perfume from the set on the grounds that it was not in keeping with the tone of the picture. (The legal files, however, include a credit for a makeup man.) The legal files also note that the area around Needles, CA, was used as a riverbank in the film, Canejo Ranch stood in for the Keene ranch, the Irvine Ranch in Tustin, CA, provided backdrops for a montage sequence, and Lasky Mesa, in the San Fernando Valley near Chatsworth, CA, was used for the Joad farm and for Muley's farm. Second unit director Otto Brower took a crew to Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, following the route that the "Okies" had taken West, and also filmed in Needles, Daggett and Tehachapi, CA. Brower and his crew filmed doubles in long shot to represent the Joad family members. According to modern sources, the second unit, while filming the Joads' car travelling down the highway, wanted to add a shot showing the large number of caravans heading west, so the film's business manager stopped actual cars making the trek and paid the drivers five dollars to escort the Joads' jalopy for the cameras.
       Modern sources note that Zanuck, feeling that the film would engender controversy due to its social themes, decided to hold its premiere in New York, where he believed it would be more sympathetically received. The Grapes of Wrath received many highly favorable reviews, including the Var review, which called the film "an absorbing, tense melodrama, starkly realistic, and loaded with social and political fireworks." NYT reviewer Frank Nugent wrote that the film had taken its place on the "...small uncrowded shelf devoted to the cinema's masterworks, to those films, which by dignity of theme and excellence of treatment, seem destined to be recalled not merely at the end of their particular year but whenever great motion pictures are mentioned." After Nugent wrote his highly favorable review of the film, according to his obituary in NYT in 1966, he accepted an offer by Zanuck to go to work for Twentieth Century-Fox for three times his newspaper salary. Because Nugent had at times been a severe critic of that studio's films, some "cynics," according to Var , thought that Zanuck was attempting to silence him by hiring him, but Nugent became convinced that the offer was genuine and accepted it. After being a script critic for a number of years, Nugent became one of Hollywood's top screenwriters, collaborating on some of Ford's most respected films.
       The Grapes of Wrath won an Academy Award for Best Direction and Best Supporting Actress (Jane Darwell), and it was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Recording, Best Screenplay and Best Picture. The picture was also included in FD 's "ten best" list for 1940 and was named the best picture of 1940 by the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics association. A Tony Award-winning stage version of The Grapes of Wrath , directed by Frank Galati and starring Terry Kinney, Gary Sinise and Lois Smith, opened in Chicago in 1988. The play was later produced for the American Playhouse program and presented on the PBS television network on 27 Mar 1991. A 25-hour radio reading of Steinbeck's novel, featuring the voices of Carl Reiner, Kris Kristofferson and Laraine Newman, aired on Los Angeles radio station KPFK-FM on Thanksgiving weekend, 1989, and coincided with the novel's 50th anniversary. The Grapes of Wrath was ranked 23rd on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 21st position it held on AFI's 1997 list. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
22 Jan 40
p. 3.
Film Daily
24 Jan 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 39
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 39
pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 39
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 39
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 39
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Dec 39
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 40
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
25 Jan 40
p. 2, 7
Motion Picture Herald
27 Jan 40
p. 52.
New York Times
25 Jan 40
p. 17.
New York Times
28 Jan 40
p. 5.
Variety
31 Jan 40
p. 14.
Variety
12-Jan-66
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Eddie Waller
Joseph Sawyer
Dick Rich
Scotty Mattraw
Eleanor Vogel
Pearl Varvell
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Darryl F. Zanuck Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
2d unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
2nd unit photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst cutter
Asst cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst propman
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
Asst sd
Cableman
Asst boom man
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech dir
Prod mgr
Scr clerk
Grip
Props
Best boy
Still photog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (New York, 1939).
SONGS
"Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad" and "Red River Valley," traditionals.
DETAILS
Release Date:
15 March 1940
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 24 January 1940
Production Date:
4 October--16 November 1939
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
24 January 1940
Copyright Number:
LP9700
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
129
Length(in feet):
11,586
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
PCA No:
5789
SYNOPSIS

Tom Joad returns from prison, where he was serving time for manslaughter, to his family's Oklahoma farm and finds the house abandoned. Muley, his half-crazed neighbor, tells Tom about the recent dispossession of the sharecroppers, who have been driven out by drought and the greedy land companies. Tom finally locates his family as they are about to pack their belongings on a dilapidated truck and head West, lured by promises of work and high wages in California. Joined by their friend Casy, a former "fire and brimstone" preacher, the Joads begin their long trek west on Route 66. Soon after, Grandpa dies and is buried alongside the road. Their hopes for a bright future are dimmed when a man at a roadside camp warns of no work in California, but the family continues on. As the Joads cross the great California desert, Grandma dies, and the remainder of the family emerges from the desert to find no jobs and hoards of starving migrants. Poverty and desperation begin to break apart the family as the husband of pregnant daughter Rosasharn leaves her. Despite rumors of labor violence, the family nonetheless hits the road once again. Hounded by the law and the local citizenry, the Joads find work as strikebreakers. Casy warns Tom that strikebreaking will only drive down wages, and when a deputy murders Casy for his labor organizing, Tom fights back and kills the deputy. With Tom now hunted as a murderer, the family steals away under cover of night and finds temporary refuge in a government agricultural camp. When the police track Tom down at the camp, however, he is forced to ... +


Tom Joad returns from prison, where he was serving time for manslaughter, to his family's Oklahoma farm and finds the house abandoned. Muley, his half-crazed neighbor, tells Tom about the recent dispossession of the sharecroppers, who have been driven out by drought and the greedy land companies. Tom finally locates his family as they are about to pack their belongings on a dilapidated truck and head West, lured by promises of work and high wages in California. Joined by their friend Casy, a former "fire and brimstone" preacher, the Joads begin their long trek west on Route 66. Soon after, Grandpa dies and is buried alongside the road. Their hopes for a bright future are dimmed when a man at a roadside camp warns of no work in California, but the family continues on. As the Joads cross the great California desert, Grandma dies, and the remainder of the family emerges from the desert to find no jobs and hoards of starving migrants. Poverty and desperation begin to break apart the family as the husband of pregnant daughter Rosasharn leaves her. Despite rumors of labor violence, the family nonetheless hits the road once again. Hounded by the law and the local citizenry, the Joads find work as strikebreakers. Casy warns Tom that strikebreaking will only drive down wages, and when a deputy murders Casy for his labor organizing, Tom fights back and kills the deputy. With Tom now hunted as a murderer, the family steals away under cover of night and finds temporary refuge in a government agricultural camp. When the police track Tom down at the camp, however, he is forced to bid farewell to his family, knowing he may never see them again. As the family leaves the haven of the camp for promise of work in Fresno, Ma Joad voices the faith to carry on. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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