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You will write a movie review on the film of your choice relevant to the topics and time
period of the course (pre-colonization to 1877). Guidelines for this assignment as well
as a sample are available on Canvas. This is the major writing assignment for the
course, and it is worth approximately 1/4 of your grade, therefore it should be taken
seriously. If you have any questions regarding this assignment, don’t hesitate to ask
your professor. Your Movie Review is due NO LATER than 11:55pm on March 31,


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David Vasquez
History 119
Movie Review #2
Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Directed By John Ford
The novel Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was made into a controversial
movie in 1936 directed by John Ford. Under the direction of director John Ford, the
Grapes of Wrath told the story of a particular family that was one of many migrants from
Okalahoma that was affected by the Great Depression and dust storms that corroded the
land they lived on. The economic and natural disasters that families had experience
forced many families to pick up and leave the farms they had worked and lived on for
years. The Goad family was one of these families that after decades of living and
working the only land they now had to leave; in fact, they were forced because although
they lived on the land, they were actually only sharecroppers. Share croppers such as the
Goad family, were forced to leave all they had and knew on the account that the
superintendents, under orders of banks and political elites, drove poor working class
people off lands for economic and political reasons.
Thomas Goad, the eldest son of the Goad family, returns to his family during this
time and after serving four years in prison. When he arrives, he finds them absent from
the family home, and the home is in shambles. Along the way, Thomas meets a preacher
who follows him to his old house and there they find hiding a neighbor who explains the
situation. The neighbor tells Thomas that his family is at his uncle’s farm and is
Commented [JU1]: NOTE: Title must be italicized or
expecting to leave to California with the rest of his family. Thomas find this hard to
believe due to the long history his family has had with the farm. However, he learns of
the forced evacuations and the “dusters,” winds that turned the once “Garden of Eden”
land into desert. The reason is however, unclear why families are forced to evacuate
since blame on the whole issue goes from superintendent, companies, banks, and
eventually to the mysterious unknown men back East.
Thomas is very disturbed and grows angry, and once he finds his family he joins
them through their struggles of leaving all they know for the unknown California where
they hope they will find work and prosperity once again. Inspired by a pamphlet that
promises such, the Goad family soon is on the way, with Thomas, and experiences the
hard realities of prejudices, discriminations, poverty, and false hopes that comes from the
migration. Through out this plot, the viewer can witness all aspects of social, political,
and ethnic determination the Goad family had to face. In addition, the severity of how
social class was used to pit people against each other in the name of progress and
capitalist gain.
The Grapes of Wrath was made in 1940 and is entirely black and white.
Steinbeck became aware of the political situation back in 1935 during which mass
migration from Okalahoma became a hotly debated issue in California politics. These
migrants earned the named Oakies while on their arrival to California, and it was
Steinbeck in his novel that first captured their struggle. Along with movie director John
Ford, whom also had a fascination with the Oakies, both men began to make the film that
would capture the audience with sufficient amounts of drama yet that would teach the
truth of the Oakies and their experiences of discriminations and social struggle that a
documentary could bring out.
This combination of a Docu-Drama move made Grapes of Wrath very effective in
exposing the hypocrisy of Americas capitalists system and the class struggle of worker
against elite. The movie also was strengthening with the music that was played from
beginning to end. Director John Ford was also a silent films producer and director, so he
did not want to tune out the characters or take away from the plot; therefore, he was
conservative with placing music at certain times. However, he used the same song “A
Red River” in the beginning and end. This song expresses a land of bounty and is played
as the family leaves the farm; however, the farm they leave is no lush paradise only a
desert. The song may seem inappropriate, yet its place is justifiable because it represents
the hope the family has in their exodus to the new “Promise Land” California. This is
song is played both during the time they leave the farm and in the ending when the family
picks up again and head towards Fresno.
Ford was not interested in close-ups; his concern was to capture the audience’s
attention not only of an individual character. Ford’s purpose was to capture the entire
moment. For example, through out the movie, the characters can be seen contrasted with
the place and time that the particular scene is shot. The panoramic views of mountains,
plains, and roadsides can all be absorbed into the moment along with the characters and
their actions at that moment. Ford also made sure to shoot scenes outside of the studio
during the early morning hours and at dusk. His reason was to capture as much natural
shadows with natural light versus what would be artificial in a studio. One scene that has
had very high praise for its genius was the scene with Thomas Goad, his preacher friend
and the neighbor discussing the situation of how the families of the Dust Bowl came
about. During this scene, the only light that Ford used was a candle. This gave a
mysterious and realistic shot, and its effect pulled the viewer into the scene making them
a fourth member in the conversation. This was also one of the few scenes that had closeups, and proved how ingenious Ford was to be conservative in using close-ups.
It was also in this scene that the viewer could appreciate the dialogue that would
continue to be played though the whole movie. The language used was truly pure in the
representation of the people portrayed. Ford made sure to keep this film real in how the
actors used the migrants’ rough speech and body language. Back to the scene with
Thomas Goad learning of the struggles that had taken hold of his family, the speech along
with the candle lit room and conversation was perfect in how it represented the way these
hard men spoke and displayed their emotions. The speech used was also distinguished in
the characters and the class of a particular character played. For example, the
superintendents and police used language that was modern and educated whereas the
migrant and agitators were more loose in speech and displayed more freedom in the way
they expressed their words along with their body language.
Henry Fonda played Thomas Goad; he was in fact the most notable actor and had
played in other movies directed by Ford. He was especially chosen by Ford for the part
of Thomas Goad because he had the look that Ford wanted in expressing a young man
who was angry at society and the injustices. Ma Goad played by Jane Darwell, was not
originally selected but was chosen because of her experience in silent films; therefore she
was able to utilize her experience by making Ma Goad a major role in the movie. Ma
Goad was soon taking over the movie when it came to expressing the struggle Of the
Goad family; this can easily be accredited by the way Jane Darwell was able to capture
the moment with her body and facial expressions. Many of the other cast members had
also played roles in Ford movies; however, none were as notable or famous as Henry
Three of the most pivotal scenes were in the beginning with Thomas Goad being
told of the facts that had been taking place with his preacher friend and old neighbor in
the candle lit room, the scene in which the family leaves the farm, and finally the ending
with Thomas Goad explaining his thoughts to his mother as he departs for good. As I
stated before, the scene with Thomas Goad in the candle lit room was the first pivotal
scene because it set the movie on the course to explaining the situation. In this scene, the
first special effect takes place as the Thomas’ old neighbor flashes back in time
describing how the superintendents evicted the various farmer families off the lands.
While explaining this, the neighbor, in his working class speech, practically breaks down
describing how unjust it was that they took his land. He argued that his land was his to
live and die in just as it has been for decades. However, I could not help but think about
the various Native American tribes who lost this same land that this man was now crying
about loosing. Was this really sweet justice? Nevertheless, his arguments brought
Thomas to the current events taking place and also revealed something unfamiliar to
Thomas. Thomas was now transforming from an “I” to “We” and begun to see himself
not angry in a selfish way for his own problems but angry for what his people have been
Right after this scene Thomas meets up with his family at his Uncle’s house.
Here he learns more of the economic and natural troubles that have caused his family to
leave for California. Soon as the family leaves, Ma Goad is in the middle seat of the old
jalopy truck that is half-way to being junk, she’s asked why she don’t give the old farm
one last look and why she looks so scared. Ma Goad’s response would be pivotal
because not only does it display how families like the Goads lost everything it also
showed the determination that these families had in overcoming and pressing on to.
However, Ma Goad’s response was ironic; she said in her response, “I never had my
house pushed over” and “I never had to loose everything I had in life” this was a
statement that could have easily been said by the Native Americans who suffered the
same lost by people like the Goads and other migrant who now faced the same pain in
being stripped of the only land and home they had.
The third most pivotal scene was at the end of the movie. Throughout the whole
movie the idea was to get to California as a family. However, the trouble that found them
along the way made this impossible. Thomas Goad was coming close to being caught for
a crime and had to leave. His mother caught him first though, and before he left, so as
not to bring any trouble to his family and the decent migrant camp, Thomas shares the
developing ideas that have invaded his mind since the beginning of the journey. Both
mother and son have grown incredibly close, and their relationship has captured the
whole movie by now. Thomas explains that his time has come to move on before trouble
arrives; furthermore, Thomas wants to learn more of the economic and political problems
that have caused his people to face the social crisis they have. This conclusion brings the
whole movie in perspective and shows the purpose Ford had in expressing Steinbeck
novel. The idea that Thomas was an angry young man, a loner, he now sees the bigger
picture and the movie comes about representing the social, political, and economic
struggle, not of an individual, but of a communal experience of working class people.
Ford and Steinbeck did not use any slants or bias. During making this film both
Steinbeck and Ford received great criticism and controversy for presenting a film that
promoted communism and anti-government propaganda. They in fact had to face being
black listed in Hollywood and also were investigation with the F.B.I. However,
Steinbeck and Ford were not communist and did not support communism. They were,
however, liberals and many conservatives still questioned them for being anti-American
and boycotted the Grapes of Wrath movie, book, and had book burnings demonstrating
Ford and Steinbeck. In the end, the movie actually proved to be quite water downed from
the novel and the real life situations in the migrant camps. Eleanor Roosevelt also backed
this up when she visited these camps across California.
I felt very privilege to have seen this movie, they do not make movies this pure
and sincere when portraying historical and social events. I was at first hesitant in
choosing this film because I was in fact the one with the bias. I had the idea of knocking
the film down for excluding how the Mexicans and other migrants who were foreign and
of color were affected by the Dust Bowl Migrants. But, in the end, I believe this film
goes beyond color lines and of ethnic culture it is much broader in prospective and
purpose. This movie brings together the culture of working people, which affects all. Ma
Goad said it best in the last few lines of the movie when describing the differences of
elite and working class people. She emphasizes the pride working people should have
and that indeed they are “the people” that makes our country peculiar and great. Caesar
Chavez said it best,” it brought memories of my past just like my life” and “I never felt so
proud of poor people before after I read that book.”
It was almost impossible to make this film because of the paranoia of a “Red
Scare” that was taking place in the U.S. and its fear of communist agitators. Steinbeck
and Ford had to be very careful in making this film and the film had not been very well
received or appreciated until later on in the century for that reason. Nevertheless, this
film has proven historically accurate according to primary sources from those that
experienced the struggles of the 30s and the Dust Bowl Migration. Today the story of the
Dust Bowl Migrants continues with the story of Mexican immigrants who suffer similarly
what Oakies had. The movie Grapes of Wrath should teach us that the American dream
is still being sought after for to this day. Appreciating this film and the values of family,
persistence, and hard work it portrays through the Goads, should remind us to be thankful
and appreciative to the new immigrants today who share these same values, the values
that have always made America great.
Ann X. Ample
History 201
Online – Summer 2014
TITLE: REVIEW – Your Film Title Here (Italicize, underline, or quotes)
1. What is the basic plot?
2. What are the major influences in the plot (these are possibilities)?
a. Neo-colonialism
b. Ethnic Nationalism/Social Darwinism
c. Capitalism & materialism
d. Manifest Destiny
e. Ethnic & gender Self-determination
f. Mal-distribution of wealth
1. What type of film is being presented?
a. Action
b. Comedy
c. Documentary
d. Docu-Drama
e. Drama
f. Pop Culture
2. What was the story filmed in?
a. Black and white (usually a statement film)
b. Color
c. Both (black and white often used to authenticate the storyline)
3. Did music have an important role?
a. Was it used passively in the background or as an integral part of the
b. Was it classical, jazz, hip-hop, country, r&b, rap, r&r, latin, middleeastern?
4. Were there special effects or unusual camera angles?
a. Explosions, gunfire, other sound effects
b. Computer generated graphics
c. Panoramic views
d. Close-ups
e. Use of light – natural/artificial, shadows
5. What type of dialogue occurred?
a. Academic/Scientific jargon
b. Contemporary/Slang
c. Obscene/Scatalogical
d. Foreign accent/Foreign language
e. Subtitles
f. Elizabethan
g. Southern drawl/Brooklynese
6. What type of actors were used?
a. Well-known stars
b. Unknowns
c. Did the story need a recognized actor to make up for a lack in the
d. Was the story-line strong enough to be accurately portrayed by
e. Was the bottom-line the amount of money that the director hoped to
make by using stars in his cast?
1. Discuss three pivotal scenes and their significance.
2. What are the major issues in these scenes?
a. Political
b. Economic
c. Technological
d. Social/cultural
1. Has the director made similar films like this one?
2. Did he present a story slanted along inclusion, exclusion, or omission of
these topics?
a. Ethnicity
b. Gender
c. Class
d. Religion
e. Politics
3. Was there conflict among the characters based on the previous question,
and was the conflict intensified, resolved, or left open for interpretation?
1. How did you feel about the movie?
2. Why did you feel this way?
1. Why was this film possible and profitable?
2. Is the film based on historic events?
3. Source of historical confirmation?
4. Does the film present any concepts and values from the past that are a part
of today’s culture; why or why not?

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