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#086 John Ford: The Grapes of Wrath vs. Tobacco Road

Download MP3 In today's episode Nate and Austin compare John Ford's best and worst rated films, The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Tobacco Road (1941), respectively. Nate hates old people, Austin has a crush on Henry Fonda, and they both are surprised at the lack of western. Check back next Sunday at 7pm PST where we will compare Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York (2008) and Anomalisa (2015), his best and worst rated films.
Also check out this interview with director John Ford:

Tobacco Road Notes

Worst Rated

PLOT: A poor family in rural Georgia struggles to make ends meet as the clan's father proudly refuses help at every turn.
  • Ratings: IMDb 6.6 | RT N/A C / 36% A
  • Released: 1940
  • Director: John Ford
  • Writer(s): Erskine Caldwell (based on the novel by), Jack Kirkland (stage play), Nunnally Johnson (screenplay)
  • Cinematographer: Arthur C. Miller (Anna and the King of Siam, The Song of Bernadette)
  • Notable actors: Charley Grapewin, Marjorie Rambeau, Gene Tierney, William Tracy, Elizabeth Patterson, Dana Andrews, Slim Summerville, Ward Bond
  • Budget: N/A
  • Box office: $1.9 million
  • Fun Facts:
    • Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews get barely 5 minutes of screen time each. Gene gets just half a dozen lines to speak
    • The Broadway play by Jack Kirkland based on Erskine Caldwell's novel opened 4 December 1933 and set a record for longevity on Broadway when it closed on 31 May 1941 after 3,281 performances. It was revived on Broadway twice in the next two years, bring its total running time there to nearly ten years (1933-1943). Opened at the Theatre Masque and then moved to the 48th Street Theatre followed by the Forrest Theatre for the original production. The play was revived in 1942, 1943 and 1950. The original Broadway production is the seventeenth longest running show ever as of February, 2013.
    • The early-1941 Ford Super De Luxe Convertible Club Coupe, driven by Harvey Parry, survived its ordeal. During filming it had been crashed into a 100-year-old sycamore tree, then backed out of the debris and driven fast to jump over a 20-foot stream (with the aid of a ramp), and thereafter smashed through several fences, sideswiped a two-ton truck (forcing the truck off the road), rammed through a tool shed (cut from final release), jumped a curb, splintered a park bench, rammed a station wagon, ran into two other trees and skidded until finally overturning. Following this, the car was set right by the crew and driven back to the studio by Parry. A studio employee, Arthur Webb, purchased the badly-damaged convertible from 20th Century-Fox and, with his brother Don, commenced to repair it with hundreds of hours of personal labor and $125 in new parts from a Beverly Hills dealership.
    • The movie was banned in Australia for unspecified reasons, but generally had few censorship problems.

The Grapes of Wrath Notes

Best Rated

PLOT: A poor Midwest family is forced off their land. They travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the Great Depression.
  • Ratings: IMDb 8.1 | RT 100% C / 88% A
  • Released: 1940
  • Director: John Ford
  • Writer(s): Nunnally Johnson (screenplay), John Steinbeck (based on the novel by)
  • Cinematographer: Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, Wuthering Heights, The Best Years of Our Lives)
  • Notable actors: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Dorris Bowdon, Russell Simpson, O.Z. Whitehead, John Qualen, Eddie Quillan, Zeffie Tilbury, Frank Sully
  • Budget: $800 thousand
  • Box office: $2.5 million
  • Fun Facts:
    • Prior to filming, producer Darryl F. Zanuck sent undercover investigators out to the migrant camps to see if John Steinbeck had been exaggerating about the squalor and unfair treatment meted out there. He was horrified to discover that, if anything, Steinbeck had actually downplayed what went on in the camps.
    • John Steinbeck loved the movie and said that Henry Fonda as Tom Joad made him "believe my own words".
    • John Ford banned all makeup and perfume from the set on the grounds that it was not in keeping with the tone of the picture.
    • John Steinbeck was particularly enamored with the performance of Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, feeling that he perfectly encapsulated everything he wanted to convey with this character. The two became good friends. Indeed Fonda did a reading at Steinbeck's funeral.
    • Henry Fonda kept the hat he wore in the movie for the rest of his life, until before he passed away in 1982 he gave it to his old friend Jane Withers. Apparently he and Withers, when she was an 8 year old girl and he a young man, did a play together before Fonda made movies. Fonda was so nervous to go onstage that little Jane took his hand, said a little prayer to ease his nerves, and the two of them became good friends for life.
    • The pro-union stance of the film led to both John Steinbeck and John Ford being investigated by Congress during the McCarthy "Red Scare" era for alleged pro-Communist leanings.
    • While filming the Joads' car traveling down the highway, John Ford wanted to add a shot showing the large number of caravans heading west, so the film's business manager stopped actual cars making the trek and paid the drivers five dollars to escort the Joads' jalopy for the cameras.
    • Noah Joad simply vanishes after the scene of the family swimming in the Colorado River. In the book, Noah tells Tom he has decided to stay by the river. In the film, his disappearance is never explained.
    • The production had a fake working title, "Highway 66", so that the shoot of the controversial novel would not be affected by union problems. Much of the dire straits portrayed in the film continued during and after the release of the movie.
    • When Darryl F. Zanuck suggested to John Ford that, to create an upbeat ending, he use Ma Joad's "we're the people" monologue for a closing scene, Ford told Zanuck to direct it himself - which he did.
    • The film was one of the first to be voted onto the National Film Registry (1989).
    • Although John Carradine hated John Ford's bullying style of direction, he nevertheless made eleven films with him over a period of 28 years. Ford was particularly keen on Carradine's unusual look.

Intro music by Eric Lynch

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