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The Grapes of Wrath (1940)


John Ford’s adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel is moving and heartfelt, despite its random structure and rambling, overwrought (and overly political) narrative. Henry Fonda owns the show as Tom Joad, a prison parolee in the 1930s who returns to his Oklahoma home to discover his family has been ousted from their farm by a greedy corporation when the infamous ‘dust bowl’ hits. The family packs it up for California to try to make a go of it as migrant farm workers, which doesn’t necessarily pan out for the best, thanks to Tom’s penchant for getting into fights with ‘Okies go home’ types. The Grapes of Wrath pours on the populist and neo-Communist schmaltz, but Fonda’s portrayal of the permanently-down-on-his-luck Tom really makes you feel sorry for him. Which, I suppose, is the point.