« Department of There's Just No Pleasing Some People | Main | "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" »

November 21, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Pete Apruzzese

I had the pleasure of running Fox's archive/vault print of Wrath back at the end of September and it was a honey; looks like they have an equally nice print for the DVD. It was spooky running the film then as that was the weekend the news was full of 'bailout' talk and other depressing topics...


Call me crazy, but I prefer that other Ford-Toland collaboration from 1940, The Long Voyage Home. Toland's photography is even more brilliant than in Grapes (J. Rosenbaum called it his best pre-Citizen Kane work), and the Fordishly decentered narrative provides some of his warmest moments. Ford's love of the sea is palpable and infectious (much like his love of the West in those other pictures). Even the miscasting of the Duke as a Swedish rookie comes off as merely quirky and adorable.

Glenn Kenny

@B.W.—You're not crazy—"The Long Voyage Home" is beautiful, unique. I do think that "Grapes" beats it in the emotional directness department, though. So maybe you're just a trifle eccentric...


I love both Grapes of Wrath and Long Voyage Home, and see strong thematic similarities in them. Thanks, Glenn, for this concise and lovely appreciation of Grapes of Wrath, a movie that I see dissed all the time. I have never really forgiven Robert Duvall for his nasty comments about it in Premiere during the publicity for Colors many years ago. I still enjoy Duvall's acting a great deal, of course, but that was the end of my interest in his interviews. (Ditto Sean Penn, who allowed as how Ford knew where to put the camera but had no idea how to direct actors.)

I was going to say I don't know why Grapes isn't more revered nowadays, but I think you nail it in your "emotional directness" comment. How Green Was My Valley has it too. I think many critics squirm at a quality that they conflate with sentimentality. That, and some critics also believe Nunally Johnson and Ford watered down the politics--the late George Fasel argued that point with some heat. I would counter that the politics are more subtle in the movie, which I don't see as a bad thing, having read the novel and found its didacticism to be its chief flaw.

P.S. If you want to see George's piece, here it is:


Glenn Kenny

@Campaspe: George's piece is typically acute and provocative, and his point that the placement of Ma Joad's speech in the film is conservative is spot-on. Still, the picture's portrayal of the all-but-socialist Dept. of Agriculture camp as a potential heaven on earth is hardly anti-progressive...

Wish George was still around. He really did provide a kind of intellectual oasis.

Duvall's bedbug about "Grapes," as I recall, had to do with authenticity—real Okies didn't talk like that, and so on. It's an essentially narcissitic complaint—"You can't tell ME"—among other things, and to hell with it. Duvall's a talented guy...but man, did you see "Assassination Tango"?

Sean Penn's a talented guy too, but we already know that he's hardly one to back down whenever a potential contest over who can be a bigger, more ill-informed jerk springs up.


Glenn, I miss George all the time. I am so glad that his family has left up his archives so I can refresh my memory when I read about some movie that he had analyzed before. He was also such a gentleman--he relished intelligent disagreement, he never squashed it.

I do think Ford was constitutionally incapable of the kind of raw questioning of the American system that you find in the novel, but Ford's sympathy for the downtrodden and essentially humanist perspective still get the point across.

Dirty Harry

While editing, wasn't it Zanuck's decision to put the Ma Joad speech at the end of the film?

I seem to recall reading or hearing that from somewhere but could be wrong.


DH, you have me intrigued and I'm looking it up. I have no Ford bio in my library at the moment (bad, I know), but at least one link, apparently from the University of Vienna, backs you up. Scroll down to "Background":


What is particularly interesting, esp. in light of George Fasel's point about moving the speech, is what the link says about Steinbeck approving the change.

Glenn Kenny

Tag Gallagher's Ford bio gathers a number of contradictory accounts without really endorsing any of them. One has Ford agreeing with Zanuck that the piece needed an upbeat ending, then going off sailing after shooting Tom's farewell. Zanuck then phoned him with news of the Ma-Joad-speech-ending, and Zanuck shot it with Ford's approval. Another version of the story has Nunnally Johnson writing out the lines in front of Ford and Zanuck. And so on. Gallager finds "Ma's uncharacteristically prolix oration" to be a "tawdry resolution." He's not wrong about Ma; nothing she does prior to that speech in the film ever gives you the impression she would make such a speech. In any case, it's Tom's farewell that always kicks me in the solar plexus.


Ha! I haven't seen "Assassination Tango", but I ran across it on cable the other day, and your review popped into my head. It's the only one I can remember reading, and I thought, "Well, it can't be THAT bad. Can it?" Since the film had been on for a while, I didn't stay to find out, so I remain curious.

Dirty Harry

"Assassination Tango" is painful.

Nick Redman's "Becoming John Ford" doc backs up the story that Zanuck went so far as to shoot the scene -- all with Ford's okay.

I have to agree that the speech felt a little "tacked on" even before I heard the Zanuck story. Part of me appreciates a film that doesn't lose faith in people and the future, and I certainly appreciate that the speech is a beautifully crafted piece of writing, but the movie is about Tom Joad's fate and it ends with him.

Check out Ford's run over three years.

How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Tobacco Road (1941)
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Stagecoach (1939)

Most anyone would declare at least 4 of those classics.

I'd claim 6 (minus Tobbaco Road) and 4 outright masterpieces -- "Valley," "Stagecoach," "Lincoln," and "Grapes."

And look how they differ in style and mood. "Lincoln" and "Voyage" especially. They're beautiful things in ways you have to see to understand.

Wilder, Stevens, Wyler... There were directors who had solid, consistent runs. Sometimes a few classics in a row even, but nothing like this. It's really unbelievable.


I would have to see it once more, preferably on a real screen, to truly fix it in my mind, but I would add Long Voyage Home to those masterpieces. In addition to being unbelievably beautiful--you talk about being gobsmacked, you should have seen me watching this film--it has absolute control of tone and feeling.

Otherwise I couldn't agree more.

I have never seen Tobacco Road, by the by, but have never felt any huge rush to do so.

Glenn, Ma's speech reminds me a bit of Vikram Seth's comment on War and Peace. He confessed that he never read the long philosophical digression that comprises part two. After Natasha and Pierre's story closed, Seth said he thought, "I apologize, Mr. Tolstoy, but for me your novel just ended." I feel the same way about Tom's leavetaking. Ma's speech has never spoiled anything for me, but it does always feel like a coda.

Stephen Bowie

I have a lot of problems with "The Long, Long Voyage Home" and "How Sentimental Was My Valley," but I've always liked "The Grapes of Wrath" and been puzzled by how it's underrated within Ford's career.

Also, I have a soft spot for Jane Darwell's performance and thought it unfair that she's often singled out as a primary weakness in the film. Her voice adds so much. Am I remembering correctly that Ford wanted Beulah Bondi (who I think might have been a bit on the nose)?

I tend to forgive Ma Joad's speech as an attempt to literalize Steinbeck's symbolic ending, wherein Rosasharn, having lost her baby, suckles the dying old man. Which, obviously, could not have been filmed in 1940.

Dirty Harry

I would trample small children to see "Long Voyage Home" on the big screen. Of all of these, that's the one I'd most like to see for exactly the reasons you mention about tone and feel.

If I ever get the time I'm going to push myself to try and articulate in writing what it is about "Voyage" and especially "Lincoln" that make them so unique. Moments and atmosphere -- no real story, just moments and atmosphere.

Glenn Kenny

@Stephen Bowie: Yes, I think Darwell is wonderful also. Not her speech so much—the way she says "Aren't you gonna tell me goodbye, Tom?" as Fonda is trying to sneak out of the tent. Just kills me.


I love Darwell for the look on her face when she holds up her girlhood earrings and turns to the mirror, only to see an old woman looking back at her. That is a moment that lies ahead for us all, if we live long enough, and I defy anyone, including David Thomson, to say she overplays it.

greg mottola

Glenn, you've inspired me to finally get onto Amazon and order some John Ford box sets that I should've gotten a long time ago. Ashamed of the gaps in my John Ford viewing...

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad