This is one of those movies that is difficult to watch, but necessary... and enlightening. The ultimate movie of this genre is Schindler's List -- definitely not "entertaining," in the traditional sense, but required viewing as far as I'm concerned.
Along those lines, I rather felt I'd "done my duty" by reading The Grapes of Wrath as a book. The book is unrelenting. Capitalism untempered with compassion is an ugly, nauseating travesty. That conditions for migrant workers were actually worse than Steinbeck described, is unimaginable.
So I approached my first viewing of the film version of The Grapes of Wrath as a sort of homework assignment for someone professing to be a movie buff. But, fear not. The movie gets the same point across (though it isn't quite the "call to arms" inspired by the book) and still manages to convey the strength of character that is its ultimate hope.
If you have not read the book (and you should) or seen the film, all you need to know for my "Wait For It..." moment is that the story deals with the Joad family, who has lost the home where they've lived for generations and must now take to the road to find work.
The most famous scene belongs to Henry Fonda (Tom Joad) and occurs toward the end of the film ("Wherever you can look - 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. . .").
However, hands down, the most poignant moment in the movie is silent and features the careworn Ma Joad (played by Jane Darwell), Tom's mother, a woman who has been buffeted by life and it shows in her face and her clothing and every move she makes. She is the last person to leave the house that is slated to be leveled by the mortgage company and now is going through a box of memorabilia, burning whatever cannot be taken along on the one vehicle the entire family must use to cross the country to find work.
In the box she finds a pair of earrings and it triggers a memory of lively music. She holds the earrings up to her ears and looks at her reflection in a beat-up old mirror. And you watch her face falls as the mirror brings her back to the present and the old woman life has made her.
My heart breaks every time -- every. time. -- I see that scene.
I identify with Ma Joad, for obvious reasons. I'm with her from that agonizing gaze that was her farewell to her old life, to her inspiring final statement:
Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. 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.