Cinema: The New Pictures: Feb. 12, 1940

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The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century-Fox). It will be a red rag to bull-mad Californians who may or may not boycott it. Others, who were merely annoyed at the exaggerations, propaganda and phony pathos of John Steinbeck's best selling novel, may just stay away. Pinkos who did not bat an eye when the Soviet Government exterminated 3,000,000 peasants by famine, will go for a good cry over the hardships of the Okies. But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book. It is certainly the best picture Darryl F. Zanuck has produced or Nunnally Johnson scripted. It would be the best John Ford had directed if he had not already made The Informer.

Part of the credit belongs accidentally to censorship and the camera. Censorship excised John Steinbeck's well-meant excesses. Camera-craft purged the picture of the editorial rash that blotched the Steinbeck book. Cleared of excrescences, the residue is the great human story which made thousands of people, who damned the novel's phony conclusions, read it. It is the saga of an authentic U. S. farming family who lose their land. They wander, they suffer, but they endure. They are never quite defeated, and their survival is itself a triumph.

Because the picture deals with everyday U. S. types, casting was all-important. Key character was Ma Joad (Jane Darwell). If she was wrong, the picture could never be in focus. She is magnificent. Russell Simpson is owlish Pa Joad. He is also a million men who plough, seed and harvest U. S. farms. Only star used was Henry Fonda (Tom Joad). For him the part was a throwback to one of his best roles, the young lineman in Slim. Others like John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Zeffie Tilbury, John Qualen, Eddie Quillan, Frank Darien have played minor roles in pictures for years and played them well. Each was as essential to The Grapes of Wrath as its scores of Okies, filling station men, cops, deputies. And each is right.

The Americans of this second westward trek are still fighting the desert, the mountains, hunger, thirst, death. Tame Indians stand and wonder at them. The Indians these modern pioneers fight are California deputies who resent the invasion of their State as much as earlier red men resented earlier whites. These are in a better position to show resentment.

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