Behind the Scenes of the Movie The Grapes of Wrath Part 2

About the film The Grade of Wrath, plot summary and behind the scenes of one of the best movies of all time.



Zanuck was, indeed, very much aware of the pressure against making this movie. Location filming was done in Oklahoma, Texas, and California by a small, almost inconspicuous crew in trucks with no studio markings. When asked, they informed onlookers that they were shooting something called Highway 66. Back in Hollywood the key word was secrecy. Zanuck allowed only choice bits of information to reach the public. For example, he let it be known that screenwriter Nunnally Johnson had taken 92% of the film's dialogue directly from the book, changing only the obscenities. And director John Ford (with considerable help from cinematographer Gregg Toland) was striving for a gritty, realistic newsreel effect for the film; he allowed no makeup for the actors, no artificial lighting, and no fancy camera effects. But the mood on the set was tense. An armed guard at the studio door prevented anyone (including Zanuck) from entering without the proper pass. Extra "stagehands" were hired, just in case there was any trouble.

There was much debate as to how Zanuck would film the book's ending, which is downbeat and therefore antithetical to the Hollywood code of the period. Zanuck was troubled by this; a depressing ending might be too much for audiences to bear. There was no clue as to what his solution would be; the actors received scripts with the last 15 pages missing. When the film was screened, his choice became clear. It was true to the spirit of the book in that Tom was forced to run away and the family was once again on the road, without any idea of their prospects for the future. But, at this point, Ma Joad delivers a short, stirring speech that displays their unbroken, indomitable spirit: "Can't wipe us out. Can't lick us. We'll go on forever. 'Cause we're the people." This ending was so effective that many thought that these were some of the lines lifted directly from the book; in fact Zanuck had written them himself.

In January, 1940, The Grapes of Wrath opened to unanimous critical praise, surprise, and awe. Public response was equally overwhelming. Opening day attendance at New York's Rivoli Theatre broke all previous records. The film's success came as an enormous surprise to the rest of Hollywood, where the common belief was that controversial, topical movies were box-office poison. Despite the film's precedent-shattering popularity, the film community was reluctant to show enthusiasm, lest they start a trend. That year, The Grapes of Wrath was only awarded two Oscars, for best direction and for best performance by an actress in a supporting role (Jane Darwell as Ma Joad). The award for best film went to Hitchcock's Rebecca. Henry Fonda, who was forced to sign a multiple-picture contract with Zanuck in order to play Tom Joad, was passed over for best-actor honors. This award was given to Fonda's good friend James Stewart, for what was actually a supporting role in The Philadelphia Story (but really for his performance a year earlier in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Fonda has never won an Oscar.

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