While remembered most fondly for his pioneering Western films, John Ford was the most respected of Hollywood directors more so for his ability to render stirring dramas in the eyes of his contemporaries. After the weight of destitution in the wake of The Great Depression, and the controversial novel of the same name swept the nation, Ford set out to make one of the most moving portraits of working class desolation ever witnessed on the screen. The Grapes of Wrath is consistently ranked among the best works of everyone involved in its production. Henry Fonda’s iconic depiction of Tom Joad has become a template for many similarly motivated characters to come; Gregg Toland’s epic cinematography full of rich shadows and intense deep-focus forecasted his work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane the following year; and John Ford reached his artistic peak with this incredibly human and politically-minded masterwork. The sad state of the country wrecked by economic desolation is often hard to endure in this parade of impoverished witness, but it is also a stunningly beautiful and uplifting film in its perpetuation of the American spirit and optimistic attitude towards the future. A more haunting display of American struggle has rarely been seen in such a measure, and perhaps never as elegantly as portrayed by the painterly craftsmanship of the foremost American director of the 20th century.
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