In 1936, John Steinbeck wrote a series of articles about the migrant workers driven to California from the Midwestern states after losing their homes in the throes of the depression: inclement weather, failed crops, land mortgaged to the hilt and finally taken over by banks and large corporations when credit lines ran dry. Lured by promises of work aplenty, the Midwesterners packed their belongings and trekked westward to the Golden State, only to find themselves facing hunger, inhumane conditions, contempt and exploitation instead. "Dignity is all gone, and spirit has turned to sullen anger before it dies," Steinbeck described the result in one of his 1936 articles, collectively published as "The Harvest Gypsies;" and in another piece ("Starvation Under the Orange Trees," 1938) he asked: "Must the hunger become anger and the anger fury before anything will be done?"
By the time he wrote the latter article, Steinbeck had already published one novel addressing the agricultural laborers' struggle against corporate power ("In Dubious Battle," 1936). Shortly thereafter he began to work on "The Grapes of Wrath," which was published roughly a year later.Read more ›
By the way, there is NO widescreen version of "The Grapes of Wrath." This DVD release exhibits the full frame aspect ratio of the original (1.33 to 1 ratio). Essentially, films made between 1917 and 1952 were filmed with a full frame aspect ratio. Standard televisions were proportioned 4:3 to copy the standard cinema ratio. Widescreen (Cinemascope, etc) was a gimmick introduced by Hollywood in the 1950s to compete with television. So if a film was made between 1917 and 1952 don't go looking for a widescreen version of it because there isn't any!
As good as the film is, it really should be a companion-piece to Steinbeck's original masterpiece, and if you haven't read it I recommend setting aside enough time to read one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written.
That being said, the medium of the cinema allows for a visual impact that can't be matched with the written word.
The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family during the great depression. That period of economic hardship hit the farmers in Oklahoma a little harder than the rest of the world, at the time of the dust bowl the "Okies" were at the end of their ropes, financially speaking.
Thousands of Okies packed up the house after being foreclosed and moved out to California - many winding up around Bakersfield, at the California end of old US Route 66. (Merle Haggard's family did so and the "Okie from Muscogee" wrote about it in songs like "California Cottonfields".)
Anyway, this is the historical context of the movie. The theme of the movie, and of Steinbeck's book, is the ability of the human spirit to remain intact in these worst of times. The Joads suffer terrible humiliations, one after another, most of them because of their desperate financial status. But as the story proceeds we see that they are fundamentally decent, hard-working people, and every time life knocks them down they get back up, brush the dirt off themselves, and keep moving forward.Read more ›