3/15/14: The Grapes of Wrath


“I been thinking about how the country’s been dumbin’ down since the people been neglectin’ the Classics. Whether it’s a guy got a million acres or a million unemployed starvin’. All of ‘em…neglectin’ the Classics. ‘Ceptin’ us, o’course. And I been wonderin’ if all us folks got together & yelled to ‘em, maybe we can do somethin’. Maybe we can find out what it is that they think’s wrong with ‘em, and see if there ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear yet. It’s like that feller Casey Jones says:” ‘That notion just crossed my mind.’. And if we can get ‘em watchin’ the Classics again the way we used in this country, “maybe we can give this country soul again. And if you don’t help me, then it don’t matter. I’ll be around – I’ll be everywhere: Watchin’ ‘em; introducin’ ‘em; discussin’ ‘em. Wherever there’s a movie about a fight; or about people so poor they can’t afford even to eat. I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy on screen, I’ll be there. I’ll be in there when guys yell, ‘I’m mad as Hell & I’m not gonna take this anymore!’. And maybe America can get smart again like we use to be. And you’ll see it in the way kids laugh; and when ther eatin’ stuff; and playin’ in front of ther houses. Oh, I dunno. It’s just somethin’ I been thinkin’ about.”

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John Ford’s 1940 pro-union, Dust Bowl era masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, won him the Oscar in 1941 at the 13th Academy Awards. The Dust Bowl was manmade weather catastrophe in the Great Plains, brought on by over-farming which caused topsoil erosion. In concert with a decade of abnormal drought, winds would kick up dust storms that caused mass exodus, both of Biblical proportions. Nunnelly Johnson was nominated for an Oscar for his adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel released a year earlier, it’s the story of Oklahoman Tom Joad (for which Henry Fonda was nominated for Best Actor), just out of prison & hitchhiking his way back home when he runs into Casy (John Carradine) who used to be his preacher. Casy’s lost his faith as the town lost their houses. The two of them head over to Tom’s Ma & Pa’s house (Jane Arwell won the Supporting Actress Oscar & Russell Simpson). They’ve packed & gone over to Uncle John’s (Frank Darien). The extended Joad’s & Casy all head to California in their beat-up truck where there’s supposed to be work picking grapes. The trip on Highway 66 is very rough & they have to stay at Migrant Camps along with the millions of others who left the plains during the Dust Bowl.

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Grapes, which was nominated for 3 more Oscars including Best Picture, was 1 of 25 initial entries in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in ‘89. Alfred Newman’s (9 Oscars & 36 more nominations) uncredited score, based on the traditional folk song, Red River Valley, is fantastic. Another song that comes up big is Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad. It’s performed by extended family member Connie (Eddie Quillan) on the porch steps at a camp where the Joad’s stay. This famous scene sums up the Joads’ arduous journey of mishap & death perfectly. This is probably the earliest crossover version of the traditional piece. It was brought on by the picture’s uncredited musical consultant, Woody Guthrie. Later versions by Bill Monroe & then Woody made it even more mainstream. Over 80 different bands have recorded the song, most notably the Grateful Dead who have performed dozens of mind-blowing versions of it. So, if you ain’t gonna be treated this a-way, let’s all get goin’ where those chilly winds don’t blow & watch the trailer to John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath below, then stream it on Netflix! 4 Stars!

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