A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1940 – The Grapes of Wrath
1940 can be a very simple or very difficult year depending on how much thought you want to put into it.
There are a bunch of choices you can rationalize as being the choice. The Great Dictator? Sure. Only I already did Chaplin and wouldn’t have much to add to that article. The Philadelphia Story? Sure. If you like. But I don’t think that represents 1940. Rebecca? Great movie. Won Best Picture. But doesn’t represent the year. Fantasia? Pinocchio? I guess you could. But we already did Disney, and Fantasia was a flop when it came out.
The film that manages to hit all the right notes for me is this one. The Grapes of Wrath is an American classic. Both as a film and a novel. It was one of the biggest moneymakers of 1940, and has remained as one of the greatest films ever made.
The film also really perfectly captures that John Ford brand of filmmaking that I think should be talked about at some point. There are a lot of amazing Ford films, but very few actually manage to stand out as films that represent their year. That’s just how it managed to happen. Mostly because they end up against complete and other powerhouses that have to be the choices for their years. But either way…
John Ford perfected a style of filmmaking that’s best referred to as “community.” John Ford built communities with his films. He’ll introduce a town, or a group of people, and no matter how many he introduces, they all feel real and they all breathe life to their town or their group or whatever it is. You look at something like The Quiet Man. You know everything about the town of Inisfree. Even if you don’t know all the peoples’ names, you understand who they are and what they’re all about. Even with his cavalry films, like Rio Grande. You just get everything about them, and you feel like they’re a community.
Rather than tell a story, Ford spends time with scenes that don’t necessarily further the plot, but strengthen the atmosphere and the characters and tend to be more memorable in the long run. One of my favorites is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where there are some scenes where we’re just chilling in the restaurant with Andy Devine and Jimmy Stewart. It’s great.
But anyway, The Grapes of Wrath is an American classic. Tom Joad, Henry Fonda saying shit with conviction. Jane Darwell as the quintessential “Ma.” It’s a great time capsule of what was a very recent time period in American history, and has really held up over the years as an amazing film.