Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on March 15th, 2004
Henry Fonda is Tom Joad, returning home after serving four years in prison for killing aman. He arrives to find the farms of Oklahoma devastated by drought, and all the familiesdispossessed of their land. He and his family become part of the great migration from the DustBowl to the Eden of California. There they face exploitation, persecution and misery, andFonda’s rage at the injustice grows.
John Steinbeck’s enormous novel found a stunning screen incarnation in th…s John Fordpicture. John Ford’s direction and the performances by Fonda, Jane Darwell and John Carradineare matched by the exquisite photography of Gregg (Citizen Kane) Toland. The movie isthus as beautiful to look at as it is emotionally devastating. An unblinking look at a dark periodof American history.
I think it’s time for the folks behind Studio Classics series either to put a lot more effort intothese 2.0 stereo remixes, or to stop attempting them altogether. This one has the usual problems,the most obvious being dialogue stricken with surreal surround effects, with voices waveringfrom front to back and left to right. There is some distortion, and noticeable background hiss aswell. All in all, the drawbacks outweigh the positives. Fortunately, the original mono track is alsoprovided.
The restoration efforts (explained in one of the extras) have paid dividends most vividly inthe clarity of the picture: the image is beautifully sharp. Speckling, too, has been almostcompletely eliminated. In its place, however, comes a noticeable flicker, which stands out duringthe darker scenes. The quality of these vary from the gorgeous, with perfect contrasts betweencandlelight and deep, deep blacks, to a grainy mess. The edge enhancement is quite apparent too.The age of the print must, of course, be borne in mind. Overall, then, a solid picture, but its flawsstand out all the more against its strong qualities.
A particular strength of the Studio Classics series has been the commentary tracks, andThe Grapes of Wrath is no exception. Two scholars do the honours here (apparentlyrecorded independently). Joseph McBride is an expert on John Ford, while Susan Shillinglaw’sspecialty is Steinbeck. Together they provided a fascinating, well balanced and informativeperspective on the film. Side A of the disc also has some context-setting screens that appeared onthe UK release of the film.
Side B has an A&E Biography episode, this one on producer Darryl F. Zanuck. There arethree Movietone drought reports, 1 reel of outtakes from said reports, and another newsreel ofFDR speaking (via radio) to the Oscars banquet. Also here: a still gallery, the theatrical trailer(along with trailers for a handful of Studio Classics films) and a restoration comparison. Not asloaded as some other releases in the series, but not bad.
Sound and picture aren’t the best this series has to offer (though still not bad). The extras areokay, but only the commentary track really stands out. The film itself is, of course, an unqualifiedclassic.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- UK Prologue
- A&E Biography: Darryl F. Zanuck
- Restoration Comparison
- Movietone Newsreels
- Movietone Outtakes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Bonus Trailers
- Still Gallery