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Posts Tagged ‘John Steinbeck’

The Grapes Of Wrath (1940) — movie review
Today’s review is for the John Ford directed movie: “The Grapes Of Wrath” starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Jane Darwell as Ma Joad and John Carradine as Jim Casy.  The movie is based on the novel written by John Steinbeck which was published the year before the movie (1939).  The subject of the movie is the move by the Joad family from Oklahoma to California – what causes the move and what happens during the move.  This is the first time I’ve seen this movie and I never had to read the book while in high school and haven’t read it since.  Yes, I know it’s a “classic”.  Mea culpa, mea culpa.
It seems I’ve been watching a number of Henry Fonda movies lately, so I thought I’d do this review next (after “Once Upon A Time In The West“).  In OUATITW, Fonda plays a cold blooded killer named (only) Frank.  I was surprised to find he is also a killer in this movie.  At the start of the movie, Tom is released from prison (convicted of murder which he claims was in self-defense) and he makes his way to his family’s farm in Oklahoma.  He finds the farm abandoned, but is able to meet up with them at his uncle’s farm nearby.  Unfortunately, his uncle’s farm has also been repossessed, and the family is being forced off of it.
Repossessed is probably not an accurate description, because they don’t actually own the farm.  They are sharecroppers.  As long as the land was productive, they could scrape by enough to feed themselves and pay their rent.  But, when the world was hit by the Great Depression and most of the mid-west was hit by the “dust bowl” of the mid-1930’s, the land was unable to support the families let alone pay for the rents.  Many families were forced to move or starve.
Like many families, the Joad’s decide to move to California on the “promise” of well paying jobs.  The majority of the rest of the movie is about the difficulties of the trip and the eventual realization that “the promise” was merely a means for the owners of the land in Oklahoma to get the sharecroppers to voluntarily move off the land without the owners having to use force.  And, during the course of the movie, Fonda’s character kills again.  This time Tom kills a “deputy” who has just killed Fonda’s friend (Carradine / Casy) for no reason except that he (the deputy) can get away with it.
This movie is a powerful indictment of capitalism, fascism and authoritarianism in the United States during the 1930’s.  It has strong political (anti-communist) undertones which touch on both the “red scare” and anti-unionism as the wealthy, in California, try to take advantage of their fellow Americans who have been driven into poverty and into migrant worker status by weather and economic forces beyond their control.  The movie also uses two specific scenes to demonstrate that average Americans have charity in their hearts – in sharp contrast with those with economic power / wealth.
The movie is generally considered to be one of the greatest American movies of all time – and I agree it one of the most powerfully disturbing movies I’ve ever viewed.  According to Wikipedia: “this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” “
The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards (1941) and won two: Darwell for Best Actress and Ford for Best Director.  Fonda was nominated for Best Actor, but did not win.  He lost to James Stewart in “The Philadelphia Story“.
Final recommendation: very highly recommended!  Disturbing, yes!  Powerful, yes!  If there is ANY downside to the movie, I’d say the weak attempt at an optimistic ending detracted from the overall power of the movie.  Fonda’s “Joad as everyman” in the prior scene was barely believable.  Ma’s “we’re gonna get by cause that’s what we’ve always done” – far less so.  In any case, this is a great / classic movie and well worth viewing in our day due to its message about our own economic / political time.
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It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
   —  John Steinbeck
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It is the nature of a man as he grows older, a small bridge in time, to protest against change, particularly change for the better.  But it is true that we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us.
   ―  John Steinbeck
From his book: “Travels with Charley: In Search of America
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On This Day In:
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Of Mice And Men  (1937©)  —  book review
Continuing my efforts to die an educated man, over the weekend I finished one of the many “classics” I eluded in high school English class, “Of Mice And Men” by John Steinbeck.  The novel is the story of two friends who share a dream of owning a small farm of their own and “live offa the fatta the lan“.  The dream escapes them – and everyone else in the book too.
Written during the middle years of the Great Depression, the book is an ode to loneliness, the weakness of innocence, and the ultimate futility of tempting Fate by trying to make plans for the future.  The book “seems” full of characters who represent symbols of generalized Man in all of our various (yet very specific) facets: the competent and understanding “Slim”, the injured by work and beaten by age “Candy”, the broken, isolated, yet still proud “Crooks”, the un-named and objectified young beauty of Mrs. “Curley”, the foolish bullying of the Napoleonic “Curley”, and of course the simple, innocent strength of Lennie Small and the lost plan of George Milton.  I suppose it is too much to believe Steinbeck sat and created a “lion” (Leonard / Lennie) of a man with the intellect of a toddler (“small” child) and his best friend George (Greek for farmer) Milton (the author of “Paradise Lost“).   I suppose…
As I’ve stated in some of my other posts, there is a saying in the martial arts: “when the student is ready, the master will appear.”    I believe I am fortunate not to have read this book in high school.  Without the extra forty odd years of experience, this would have simply been a predictable story of accidental death and Karmic retribution.  It is that.  It is also a fine wine of subtle hope and deep friendship in the face of depressing reality and personal loneliness.  It is a man viewing a homeless mouse facing the coming of winter…  Coming for both of them.
Final recommendation: a “classic”.  Mildly to extremely depressing (be warned), but still highly recommended – if for nothing else, then so you’ll understand other people referencing the title.
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On This Day In (Leap Year):
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Travels With Charley – In Search Of America – book review
Today’s review is for one of John Steinbeck’s later works, “Travels With Charley” (1962©).  The book is a “supposedly” non-fiction relating of a road trip Steinbeck made around the continental United States (about 10,000 miles).  Roughly, the trip is from his home in New York, up to Maine, across the northern states to Seattle, down through California, back east to New Orleans (via Texas), then up the Eastern seaboard back to his home.  Steinbeck says the trip is to allow him to get back in touch with the common American whom Steinbeck feels he based much of his writing on.  Having lost “touch” with his roots, Steinbeck seeks to rediscover America by seeing it again with his own eyes.  Steinbeck makes the trip in a truck with a custom built camper shell.  The truck is named “Rocinante” –  for the horse ridden by Don Quixote.
Although quite a number of books touch me (as a reader), there are relatively few which seem to strike an internal chord.  I am not a musician, so forgive me if I am misusing the term “chord”, but it is more than a single note.   It is a combination of notes which creates their own harmony.  This book is one of those few for me.  It is hard for me to adequately put into words the effect this book had except to say I consistently felt Steinbeck was writing it just to let me know I am not alone in how I feel about certain things.  From his description of his perpetual wanderlust, to his affection for his pet dog (Charley), to his observations about America – its history and its people – its cities and our civilization – I just felt a powerful bond of kinship with Steinbeck.
In the martial arts, it is frequently said that when the student is ready, the teacher will find him.  I think it ironic for me to “discover” this work as I turn sixty (“ish”) and that I feel its call to me to continue chasing my own windmills.  “On, Rocinante!!”  I cannot promise you this book will touch you as powerfully as it did me, but my final recommendation is Highly Recommended Book / Reading.
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On This Day In:
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A kind of second childhood falls on so many men.  They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span.  In effect, the head of the house becomes the youngest child.  And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror.  For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness.  I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.  I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.  My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.
  ― John Steinbeck
From his book: “Travels with Charley: In Search of America
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He said he was not afraid because years before a witch doctor gave him a charm against evil spirits.
“Let me see that charm,” I asked.
“It’s words,” he said. “It’s a word charm.”
“Can you say them to me?”
“Sure,” he said and he droned, “In nomine Patris et Filli et Spiritus Sancti.”
“What does it mean?”
He raised his shoulder. “I don’t know,” he said.
“It’s a charm against evil spirits so I am not afraid of them.”
I’ve dredged this conversation out of a strange-sounding Spanish but there is no doubt of his charm, and it worked for him.
  ―  John Steinbeck
From his book: “Travels with Charley: In Search of America
[For those of you who are a bit rusty on your Latin: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit“.  —  KMAB]
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