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The Grapes of Wrath


USA, 1940

Director: John Ford

Production: Twentieth Century-Fox; black and white, 35mm; running time: 128 minutes, some prints are 115 minutes. Released 24 January 1940, New York. Filmed late Summer-early Fall 1939 in Twentieth Century-Fox studios and lots; with some footage shot on location on Highway 66 between Oklahoma and California. Cost: $750,000 (estimated).

Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, from the novel by John Steinbeck; photography: Gregg Toland; editor: Robert Simpson; art directors: Richard Day and Mark Lee Kirk; music arranger: Alfred Newman; special sound effects: Robert Parrish.

Cast: The Joad Party: Henry Fonda (Tom); Jane Darwell (Ma); Russell Simpson (Pa); Charley Grapewin (Grampa); Zeffie Tilbury (Granma); Frank Darien (Uncle John); Frank Sully (Noah); O. Z. Whitehead (Al); Dorris Bowdon (Rosasharn); Eddie Quillan (Connie Rivers); Shirley Mills (Ruthie); Darryl Hickman (Winfield); Others: John Carradine (Casey); John Qualen (Muley Graves); Ward Bond (Policeman); Paul Guilfoyle (Floyd); Charles D. Brown (Wilkie).

Awards: Oscars for Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Darwell), 1940; New York Film Critics' Awards for Best Picture and Best Direction, 1940.



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* * *

A pet project of Darryl Zanuck's, The Grapes of Wrath exercised the packaging talents of Fox's studio head for a large part of 1939 as he put together a team appropriate to a book with the stature of Steinbeck's novel. John Ford was an obvious choice to direct, Dudley Nichols to write the script, and Henry Fonda to star as Tom Joad, the uneducated ex-convict "Oakie" who becomes the personification of flinty Midwestern integrity and moral worth. Knowing Fonda's wish to play Joad, Zanuck lured him into signing an eight-picture contract by advertising his intention to cast in the role either Don Ameche or Tyrone Power.

Ford, Nichols, Fonda and the supporting cast translated Steinbeck's novel to the screen with proper fidelity, the distortions far outweighed by the spectacular rightness of Fonda's casting and the remarkable cinematography of Gregg Toland, clearly influenced by the dust bowl photographs of Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White. The film's opening image of Tom Joad walking with tireless application out of the flat Midwestern landscape against a counterpoint of leaning telephone poles, suggests the themes of society confronted by an ecological and historical disaster against which it is helpless to act. Accustomed to such material from his frontier films, Ford took instinctive and instant command.

Clearly he felt an affinity with the plight of the dispossessed Kansas farmers of Steinbeck's story, which mirrored that of his Irish forebears turned off the land in the potato famine of the 19th century. And he had already established in films like Four Men and a Prayer the image of the family as not only unbreakable but an instrument for change, an institution that could act to improve social conditions. Throughout the film, it is the independents like John Carradine's itinerant preacher Casey and the half-mad fugitive Muley (John Qualen) who seem lost, desperate for companionship, while Jane Darwell and Russell Simpson as Ma and Pa Joad exhale a sense of calm and confidence. As Ma affirms at the end of the film, in a scene added by Zanuck to underline the moral and blunt the harsh dying fall of the novel, no force can destroy the will of people who are determined to live.

The picture Ford and Nichols draw of Depression America pulls few punches. Disinterested banks employ local strong-arm men to dispossess the share croppers and evict farmers unable to keep up mortgage payments on their own over-used, poorly maintained properties. Muley's futile stand against the bulldozers wilts when he recognizes one of his neighbors in the drivers seat. One has to eat even if it means betraying one's own kind. Deprived of his sacred kinship with the earth, sanctified by "living on it and being born on it and dying on it," Muley becomes "just an ol' graveyard ghost" flitting about his crumbling house in the light of Tom Joad's lamp.

The Joads set out for California, their lurching truck loaded up with possessions, relatives and, in a touching gesture, the preacher Casey, invited along after a brief and hurried calculation of the vehicle's strength. Casey is a classic Fordian figure, a religious madman who acts as custodian of principles, the celebrant of rituals like Mose Harper (Hank Worden) in The Searchers. He says the brief funeral oration over Grandpa Joad when he succumbs to the trials of the journey. He also turns into a primitive union organiser when greedy employers exploit the itinerants desperate for work as fruit-pickers. He's no natural radical—just a man with a proper sense of right and wrong. Amused, he says of the bosses' thugs who hunt him, "They think I'm the leader on account of I talk so much." When he dies, murdered by the employers, it is Tom who carries on his duty, instinctively sensing his destiny. "Maybe it's like Casey says. A feller ain't got a soul of his own, but only a piece of a big soul." And he walks off again, as he entered the story, undramatically spreading the gospel of social reform.

The Grapes of Wrath abounds with examples of Ford's skill in visual language. Poor talkers, the Joads express much in a way of standing, looking, responding to the land through which they pass. Ma Joad's cleaning up of the old house is shown largely without dialogue, but her careful turning out of a box of mementoes, the discovery of a pair of earrings and her action of putting them on her ears and looking up into the dark at some half-forgotten moment of youthful pleasure could hardly be bettered with words. Jane Darwell is perhaps too plump, matriarchal, too Irish for her role, and Ford's first choice, Beulah Bondi, has a greater physical claim to the part with her gaunt, stringy resilience, but so effective is Ford's use of the actress that one can no longer imagine anyone else playing it.

Fonda remains the focus of the film, his clear-eyed sceptical gaze reaching out to the camera no matter where he stands in the frame. The strength of his moral convictions is all the more striking for the imperfection of the character which supports them. Just released from jail for a murder, Tom is unrepentant: "Knocked his head plumb to squash," he recalls to an alarmed truck driver who gives him a lift. He has little understanding of politics ("What's these 'Reds' anyway?"), enjoys a drink and a dance, but has no time for abstract discussions. That such a man can be roused to moral wrath by injustice dramatizes the self-evident corruption of the system, and the belief in his conviction carries an audience to a conclusion startlingly radical by the standards of the time. Ford's reactionary politics, his populism and republicanism, must have stood in direct contradiction of the book's harsh message, which may explain his acceptance to the final suger-coated scene. Yet in Ford's world, to keep faith meant more than any political creed; better to believe in an error than not to believe at all. When Ma Joad at the end of The Grapes of Wrath professes the absolute faith of a peasant people in simple survival, one hears Ford's voice as clearly as that of writer, producer or star.

—John Baxter

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The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

Rock group

For the Record

Selected discography


The punk rock movement of the mid 1970s gave birth to numerous sub-genres and musical offshoots such as New Wave, goth, alternative, and grunge. Almost every popular musical group that emerged after punk rock invaded the mainstream has owed a debt to this seminal musical force of the late twentieth century.

By 1977 the punk rock phenomenon had infiltrated Canada. Small towns and big cities alike had begun to attract homegrown bands and performers who were steeped in the nascent punk tradition. The tiny western Canadian town of Kelowna, British Columbia, was no exception. In 1977 schoolmates Chris Hooper and Kevin Kane, who were both in their early teens, joined up with Hoopers little brother Tom, who was barely 11 years old, to form a punk band.

The newly formed trio began to jam together at their parents homes. They covered punk tunes along with staples of the classic-rock canon before they moved on to playing their own songs. They broke up a short while later. According to the 1991 biography of Grapes of Wrath on the Capitol Records website, the Hoopers continued to pursue their punk fixation with a group called Gentlemen of Horror, while Kane played in an art-rock outfit [called] Empty Set.

In 1983 the Hooper brothers decided to hook up with Kane again. They formed what was supposed to be a one-night-only cover band called Honda Civic. After the show, the Hoopers and Kane realized that, in order for them to achieve their goals and satisfy themselves both musically and creatively, they were going to have to come together for good this time. The creative spark of their collaborations along with their love of cutting-edge music were the forces that initially brought the Hooper brothers and Kane together in 1977; they served to bring them back together some six years later.

The summer of 1983 saw the trio drop the name Honda Civic in favor of something more substantial. They decided on Grapes of Wrath, a name suggested by the film lover, Chris. They soon began practicing at home under their new name.

With money saved up from various part-time jobs and yard sales, among other things, the Grapes of Wrath traveled to Vancouver in 1984 to record their first recorda four-song self-titled EP. The Grapes of Wrath was released on the Vancouver-based Nettwerk label. Soon after the EPs release, the band relocated to Vancouver, picking up a new member around the same time: keyboard player Vincent Jones.

The positive regional support that the Grapes of Wraths debut EP garnered helped to propel their next release into the musical consciousness of the Canadian nation as a whole. The bands second album, September Bowl of Green, was released in 1985. It was this album, their first full-length release, that earned them critical acclaim and national interest, helped along by significant radio airplay throughout Canada.

After capturing the national attention of their homeland, the Grapes of Wrath turned their attention toward the United States to see if they could work their magic south of the border. In 1986 September Bowl of Green was released in both America and Europe, thanks to a global distribution deal brokered between Nettwerk and Capitol Records. Unlike the situation in Canada, the record did not cause much of a stir in the United States. Undaunted by this, the Grapes of Wrath entered the studio to record their second full-length album, Treehouse, which was released in Canada in 1987. The album was not the breakthrough smash hit everyone in the band had hoped for, but it did yield Peace of Mind, the Grapes of Wraths first hit single in Canada. The album did not fare well in America when it was released one year later.

Early 1989 saw the Grapes of Wrath return to the United States, specifically Woodstock, New York, to record the sessions that would eventually become their third album, Now and Again. This album evokes the melodies of the Byrds along with the jangly sounds of such college and alternative rock stalwarts as R.E.M., the Connells, and Lets Active. Now and Again struck a responsive chord in the record-buying and music-listening public in Canada: the album went gold in Canada after less than two months. The Grapes of

For the Record

Members include Matt Brain (joined group, c. 2000), drums; Chris Hooper (left group, c. 1998), drums; Tom Hooper, bass, vocals; Vincent Jones (joined group, c. 1985), keyboards; Kevin Kane, vocals, guitars.

Group formed in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, 1983; moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, and signed with Nettwerk Records; released Grapes of Wrath (EP), 1984; signed to Capitol Records, released September Bowl of Green, 1985; disbanded, 1992; reformed, 1998; released Field Trip on Song Recordings, 2000.

Awards: Canadian platinum sales certification, Now and Again, c. 1990; Canadian platinum sales certification, These Days, C. 1992.

Addresses: Business -P.O. Box 57128, 2480 E. Hastings St., Vancouver, BC, Canada V5K 5G6. Website Grapes of Wrath Official Website:

Wrath also scored their first top-ten hit single in Canada, the lilting ballad All the Things I Wasnt. The success of Now and Again helped to push the Grapes of Wrath out of the clubs and into the concert halls as they toured Canada. While Now and Again was achieving platinum sales certification in Canada, the Grapes of Wrath began touring Europe and the United States.

Touring in support of Now and Again took up most of 1990, and the Grapes of Wraths fourth album did not see the light of day until 1991. Like its predecessor, These Days was certified platinum in Canada. The sales of the album were bolstered by the fact that it yielded two top-ten hit singles, I Am Here and You May Be Right. Concerts sold out all over Canada, and Europe began to warm up to the charms of the Grapes of Wrath. In Europe the Grapes of Wrath began to see their first chart appearances outside their native land.

Unfortunately, the success and accolades were to be short-lived for the Grapes of Wrath. On October 30, 1992, the band dissolved. According to the official Grapes of Wrath website, though never officially breaking up, the Grapes of Wrath were pretty much over: the Hoopers and Jones attempted to have Kane removed from the band and Kane took legal action against his former band mates. The Hooper brothers and Jones went on to form the band Ginger, releasing two albums in the mid 1990s. Kane pursued a solo career and released an album around the same time.

Almost four years after the band had broken up, Tom Hooper sent Kane a letter about the split. According to the official Grapes of Wrath website, the letter suggested] that the two of them try and resolve matters once and for all. Meeting at a neutral Vancouver location, the old Grapes business [was] essentially put to rest in barely over an hour, [and] talk turned to playing together again.

They decided to play small shows and began to record some tracks in the studio in the late 1990s. By the summer of 2000, Kane, along with his songwriting partner Tom Hooper and new drummer Matt Brain, had released the fifth Grapes of Wrath record, Field Trip, on Song Recordings. Commenting on Field Trip the first Grapes of Wrath record in nine yearson the Chartat-tack website, Hooper said, Time goes by. Youd hope that you wouldnt sound exactly the same that you did 15 years ago. Its whatever comes naturally. Were better players now, were better everything.

Selected discography

The Grapes of Wrath (EP), Nettwerk Records, 1984.

September Bowl of Green, Capitol Records, 1985.

Treehouse (includes Peace of Mind), Capitol Records, 1987.

Now and Again (includes All the Things I Wasnt), Capitol Records, 1989.

These Days (includes I Am Here and You May Be Right), Capitol Records, 1991.

Field Trip, Song Recordings, 2000.



Graff, Gary and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.


The Grapes of Wrath, All Music Guide, (April 10, 2001).

Grapes of Wrath Official Website, (April 10, 2001).

Grapes of Wraths Magic Mushroom Experience, Chartattack, (April 10, 2001).

Additional information was taken from Capitol Records press materials for These Days, 1991.

Mary Alice Adams

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