I saw this movie when I was a teenager one early dawn on AMC when they played movies without interruption. Even then, as a teen, I found the movie to be powerful, moving and inspirational, and I still do. Still, in the years since I’ve read the novel by Steinbeck, and while the movie is pretty faithful in its first two acts, although the movie turns in it’s third act for something a little more positive, which is fine, but not as powerful. In the original novel, Rosasharn gives birth to a stillborn baby brought in by the lack of food around her, and in the only act that wasn’t self-serving for the Joads, she breast-feeds a dying old man in a barn to save his life. So yeah, that probably wasn’t going to be allowed in a 1940 film, it’s still a little disappointing that it wasn’t.
Still, the movie is still pretty damn good, directed by John Ford, one of my favorite directors of all time and one of my main filmmaking inspirations. Acting wise, the film is perfect as well, with Henry Fonda playing Tom Joad, a man who’s just out there trying to survive with his family, trying the world not to drive him over the edge. Also amazing is Jane Darrell, playing Ma Joad, who’s distinctive voice and somber attitude ground the character as the main driving force of the family. You feel like she’s your own mother while you’re watching it, feeling her pain and struggles throughout. It’s also worth noting that future B-movie horror star John Carradine has a small but memorable part as Casy, a former preacher who joins the Joads on their trip. All in all, a great film that is well worth it’s reputation.