Sunday, November 26, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: The Grapes of Wrath

The Set-Up: John Steinbeck wrote the novel (which won the Pulitzer). Screenwriter Nunnally Johnson changed it considerably in his screenplay. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck championed it, although he was politically conservative. And Roosevelt Democrat John Ford won an Academy award directing it. It was one of the first twenty-five films to be selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 1989.

In this scene, Tom Joad must run to protect his family. But he's not running away. He's running to something. He's running for something. He sees something's wrong, and he wants to change it. He doesn't know how. He can't explain it. But he's seen what's happened to his family and his friends and it's got to change. And so he explains it the only way he knows how. And Ford and his brilliantly innovative cameraman Gregg Toland shoot it, like so much of the film, as faces in the dark. The mother and son can barely look at each other, and neither knows what the future holds.

Nobody does.

But with these affirming words Ma Joad ends the film:

"I ain't never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked like we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn't have nobody in the world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared.... Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain't no good and they die out too, but we keep on coming. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out, they can't lick us. We'll go on forever Pa, 'cause we're the people."


And in 2017, those words need to be if they were bible.

The Story: The Joad family has lost the farm, and they've headed for a better life and employment in California. But, so far, life has been hard. Family members have died. After two bad experiences they've finally landed in a good work-camp, but their ex-con son Tom (Henry Fonda) has killed a police guard when his preacher friend Casy (John Carradine) was attacked at a worker's meeting. Now, under cover of darkness, he says good-bye to his Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) before he can be arrested. Dawn's a-comin'.


Ma Joad: Sit down for a minute.

Tom Joad: I'd like to stay, Ma. I'd like to be with ya, and see your face when you and Pa get settled in some nice place. I'd sure like to see ya then. But, I won't never get that chance, I guess, now...
Ma: I could hide ya, Tommy.
Tom: I know ya would, Ma, but I ain't gonna let ya. Ya hide somebody that's killed a guy an' you're in trouble, too.

Ma: Alright, Tommy. But what do ya figure you're gonna do?

Tom: Ya know what I been thinkin' about? 'Bout Casy. 'Bout what he said. What he done. 'Bout how he died. An' I remember all of it.

Ma: He was a good man.

Tom: I been thinkin' about us, too. 'Bout our people livin' like pigs, an' good, rich land layin' fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres an' a hundred thousand farmers starvin'. An' I been wonderin' if all our folks got together an' yelled...

Ma: Oh, Tommy, they'd drive ya out and cut ya down just like they done with Casy...

Tom: They're gonna drive me, anyways. Sooner or later, they'd get me for one thing if not for another. Until then....

Ma: Tommy, You're not aimin' to kill nobody?

Tom: No, ma, not that. That ain't it. It's just....well, as long as I'm a outlaw, anyways, maybe I can do somethin.' Maybe I can jus' find out somethin.'

Tom: Just...scrounge around, an' maybe find out what it is that's wrong. And then see if there ain't somethin' can be done about it.

Tom: I ain't thought it all out clear, Ma, I—I can't. I don't know enough.

Ma: Well, how am I gonna know about you, Tommy?

Ma: Why they could kill ya an' I'd never know. They could hurt ya. How'm I gonna know?

Tom: Well, maybe it's like Casy says.

Tom: Fella ain't got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody. Then...
Ma: Then what, Tom?

Tom: Then it don't matter! I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere, wherever you can look.

Tom: Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat...I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy...I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad.

Tom: I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready.

Tom: An' when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, an' livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too.

Ma: I don't understand it, Tom.

Tom: Oh, me neither, Ma,'s just somethin' I been thinkin' 'bout.

Tom: Gimme your hand, Ma. Goodbye.
Ma: Good-bye, Tommy. Later, when this is blowed over, you'll come back?
Tom: Sure, Ma.

Ma: Tom, we ain't the kissin' kind, but...
(She kisses him on the cheek. He kisses her in turn)

Tom: G' bye, Ma.
Ma: Goodbye, Tommy.

Ma: Tommy....

The Grapes of Wrath

Words by John Steinbeck and Nunnally Johnson

Pictures by Gregg Toland and John Ford

The Grapes of Wrath is available on DVD from Fox Home Video.

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