I hesitate to write a bad review of The Grapes of Wrath because I know that to many people who view it apolitically, it is simply a very well made drama. To such people my criticism may seem merely like muckraking. If, however, you are observing the misinformation that the premise of this film is built upon, then I believe it legitimately fails. I understand the poetic license that artists take to make a good story, and I am willing to grant that license. However, I feel that, when tallied, this film's erroneous statements go far beyond the pale of poetry and cross into the realm of propaganda and silliness. It's the difference between "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" vs. Charlie Daniels "In America". The former inspires me, the latter is a joke.
Another aspect of the movie that bothered me was its disconcerting take on morals. It begins, fittingly, with someone being mocked for obeying a rule. Henry Fonda, a murderer just out on parole, berates a truck driver for obeying a rule that prohibits him from giving rides. What if Fonda had hijacked him, would the truck driver be a prude or an idiot? In the next scene, God gets the ax. Fonda comes across a disillusioned vagabond, the family's ex-parson. He brags that his sermons were emotional hype and confesses that he liked to sleep with the women that got caught up in "the spirit" at his meetings. Now, he says, he has lost hope. He does not state this as a fault, so much as it is confusing to him why "the spirit" has left him. Strangely, this later state of the preacher is looked upon by Fonda as being clairvoyant. Everything that happens in The Grapes of Wrath happens within the context of morality being a relative thing, certainly one devoid of divine appointment. Everything from lying to murder is excusable if done by the right people or for the right reasons. A few examples:
- Upon seeing Fonda out of prison, most of his family is hoping he broke out. His parole comes as a disappointment.
- The murder he was sentenced to seems irrelevant.
- The sharecroppers are willing to kill the owners of the land to stop them from evicting them (they don't because it "won't do no good" not because it would be morally reprehensible).
- (slight spoiler) Fonda murders another man for murdering his friend, and Fonda's mother not only excuses the murder without knowing what her son's motive was, but offers to cover it up by hiding her son.
I, personally, have a hard time rooting for such protagonists. I also found Fonda's character to be too abusive and insolent many times.
Overall, I find the authors socialist overtones cliché and cockeyed:
Its opinion of authority is comical. All cops are evil thugs, all employed towns people are absentee cowards, all successful businessmen are thoughtless criminals, and essentially everybody in the film that has employment are only out for themselves and their first impulse is always to be rude and uncaring.
The film's opinion of how people treated each other in the '30's is askew. No doubt, some people where cold and heartless, that is a given at any time, but where are the good people? There is not a single group or individual (with any means, that is) helping any of these people, esp. children? Where are the soup kitchens, churches, etc..? The premise of the script is built upon this nonsense. Quick research into the Great Depression will reveal a contrary reality. People where mostly very kind and helpful to each other. It's how we survived as a country. Many other countries turned to anarchy.
Its opinion of progress is very cockeyed. The tractors are pictured as giant evil job gobblers. In reality, modernization made it so poor people could get better paying jobs and live a much higher quality of life.
Its opinion of what role religion plays in American life is cockeyed.
Its opinion of land ownership is cockeyed. If I rent land, and the owner wants to take it back, that is part of my contractural agreement. Oddly, it appears the farm owners were actually doing them a favor by getting rid of them. If they were not successful, their grandparents should have thrown in the towel decades before. But I am expected to sympathize with this.
Its opinion of how the government helps people is not only cockeyed, it's backwards. If anyone is guilty of screwing people and taking away their rights, it's government. Reality is so much different that this issue becomes a farce. In one scene, the only thing missing from the government run workers camp were angles playing harps. You may argue that Roosevelt's WPA helped people, but many scholars argue that it actually prolonged the depression.
The entire premise of the "Okie migration" is not factual as presented here, Google the topic to find out. For example; the migration of the Midwest was transpiring since the teens. The bulk of it occurred in the 40's, not the thirties, as employment became abundant in California due to WWII. There are a plethora of other non-truths in this script. So much so that the movie was protested by many people in California. Steinbeck grossly misrepresents the facts.
I could go on much longer, but I am limited to 1000 words. All of this is not to say The Grapes of Wrath does not have good and valid points about how we should help people and think of them before profits. I just think they are lost in an ocean of deception and lies. As a movie making effort: 9.5 out of 10. As a whole: 3 out of 10.
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