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Review - The Grapes of Wrath (DVD-2004)
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The Grapes of Wrath (DVD-2004)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

20th Century Fox has finally released on DVD one of the great films of all time: The Grapes of Wrath.

Made in 1940 and based on the novel of the same name by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath stars Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell and a stunning ensemble cast. The story, about impoverished migratory workers and their struggle to move from the Midwestern dustbin to California in order to find work, was directed by John Ford.

Film reference sources such as The Movie Guide state that The Grapes of Wrath documents an American social tragedy, giving voice to the victims, through art. The Filmgoer’s Companion calls the film one of the earliest exposes of social injustice and one of the most moving and beautiful films to come out of America.

The film’s star, a young Henry Fonda, gives a superb classic performance as Tom Joad. Jane Darwell, playing his mother, Ma Joad, won an Oscar for her brilliant and moving performance. And the best director Oscar went to director John Ford.

There is a haunted quality about images in The Grapes of Wrath. Music is used sparingly, and the film is as much a film about people as it is about events.

Cinematography comes from the magnificent Gregg Toland, who died young at the age of 44, and who also photographed Citizen Kane and Wuthering Heights. Indeed, the cinematography is one of the most striking aspects of the film. Shot in an amazing documentary style, and masterfully using light and shadow, the photography seems to literally capture reality as its images move the viewer in the most visceral, poignant and powerful way.

The original negative for the film no longer exists so restoring image and sound proved problematic. A restoration comparison is included on the DVD (which incidentally is a deluxe 2 disc DVD set). This film has never looked as good as on this DVD and the sound is superb. Extras include a documentary on the film’s noted producer, Daryl Zanuck, founder of 20th Century Fox. The Grapes of Wrath is only one of his many important or groundbreaking films. Did you know he also produced the first major sound film, The Jazz Singer and the first Cinemascope film, The Robe?

When the American Film Institute voted on the 10 greatest American Films ever made, The Grapes of Wrath was one of them, high up on the list. Even in subsequent re-votings by the Institute of the great films over the years, it has always maintained a distinguished and prominent place. It is easy to see why. This is a film that is ahead of its time, unique, gripping and powerful, moving and unrelenting. It has scarcely dated in 64 years and certainly lost none of its power. Once seen, it is unforgettable. The Grapes of Wrath is an essential item for any film library.

2004 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

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