Oklahoma, the Dust Bowl: Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) has been in prison for
four years because he killed a man in self defense. Now he's out on
parole, but when he comes to his family's farm he finds it deserted. From
a neighbour (John Qualen) he learns that the company that owns the land is
in the process of repossessing it and tearing down farmhouses with
Together with Casy (John Carradine), a priest who has lost his faith,
Tom is able to track down his family at Uncle John's (Frank Darien), but
his farm too is threatened by the bulldozers, so the whole family
including Uncle John and Casy head for California, where they are promised
jobs in fruit picking, in their truck that seems to fall apart more with
every mile they make and with just enough money not to starve.
During the journey, both Tom's grandpa (Charley Grapewin) and grandma
(Zeffie Tilbury) die, but the family has to move on. Finally they arrive
in California - only to be welcomed with anything but open arms. Fact is,
farmers from all over the country have come to California to pick fruits -
and there aren't all that many fruits to pick.
The Joad family finally finds abode at a run-down camp of unemployed
farmworkers - but this one is terrorized by deputies who are looking for reds
among the unemployed and are looking for every excuse to close it down.
Eventually, they find a red and want to shoot him down, but accidently
shoot Tom's Ma (Jane Darwell), not fatally though, and before he knows it,
Tom knocks one of them out. Casy, who knows that Tom is out only on
parole, assumes responsibility for the act and is arrested. Soon enough,
Tom learns that locals want to burn down the camp, and everybody makes a
Finally, the Joad family arrive at a camp where there is actually work
... but the conditions are even worse than in the unemployed camp: The
camp is under constant watch by deputies, is paroled all through the
night, the pay is miserable, and the workers are forced to buy their food
in the overpriced local shop ...
When Tom takes a walk, he meets Casy again, who has since the last time
they saw each other done some thinking, and has come up with some ideas to
improve the conditions of the workers - which in the eyes of the company
that runs the place makes him a red, and ultimately the deputies kill him
right before Tom's very eyes, which makes Tom kill one of them as a reflex
Again, the family has to leave in a hurry.
The next camp they arrive at though is something completely else, it
was installed by the gouvernment but is run by the workers themselves as a
corporation. There is no guarantee for work , but at least the
infrastructure is adequate and no deputies can come in without a warrant.
And the occupants are more than determined to keep both deputies and
troublemakers out despite the fact that the locals despise them and are
just looking for an excuse to close the camp down (for them, all
camp-inhabitants are Communists anyways).
Soon enough, Tom realizes that the deputies might already be after him
and he sees it best to leave his family and fend for himself on his own -
but to spread the ideas of Casy everywhere he goes ...
By and large, John Ford was known for his (often epic) Westerns, but Grapes
of Wrath, the epic of the underdog based on John Steinbeck's
masterpiece about the Great Depression, might very well be his most
accomplished work, the film in which he actually brings the wide open
plains of his Westerns into a relation with the characters' plight - which
makes Ford's direction even more flawless than usual. The performance by
Henry Fonda, maybe the most unglamourous in his career, is also quite