I thought that since the novel had been published in 1939, and the film came out in 1940, that more than likely the director, John Ford, and screenwriter would have stuck a little more closely to the novel. Well, I was right in some respects; wrong in others. I’m not going to bother researching John Steinbeck’s role in the making of this film but if I were him, I’d be pissed.
The film almost follows the plotline perfectly. There are a few mixings-around of narrative action, but that doesn’t specifically make this film a disappointment for me. What is disappointing to me is that THE MOST IMPORTANT SCENE OF THE FILM, THE END, IS ENTIRELY MISSING! It ends on Ma saying how “We’re the people who live on” and all that jazz. Not really, Ma. You’re the people who might not live on. That was Steinbeck’s point. I’ve never seen such a blasphemous ending.
I mean, what’s there to cry about in this film??? The suffering of the Joad family is not developed enough to come anywhere near evoking that raw, human compassion that the reader feels. For instance, you never see the Joads struggling for food: they’re eating in half of the scenes! Yes, granma and granpa die, Connie leaves, the other brother disappears (not even dealt with in the film, by the way), Casy is killed, etc. But you don’t “see” the struggle. This is my general beef with literature-to-film adaptations so I won’t bore you with more critiques of that.
I have to say that my other major critique of this film is the actors. Sorry, world-at-large. My problem isn’t with Henry Fonda or John Carradine. It’s with Ma’s character, played by Jane Darwell. Of course, she won an academy award! She just wasn’t believable as the matriarch of the Joad family. And I was less-than-impressed with her feigned Okie accent. And Rosasharn didn’t even have a Southern accent. Give me Vivien Leigh or give me Death! But perhaps I’m being too critical with my own watered-down Southern accent. Though, I seem to have an affinity for disliking poor accents in films; Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet comes to mind.
I guess I should have realized that they would never have put the final scene of the novel into film in 1940. But why bother doing it at all if you’re not going to do it right? Why pervert the point of the story? Pure blasphemy!