John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath spends two hours rubbing our noses in poverty and economic exploitation, yet somehow sends us off with hope-filled hearts. Cinematographer Gregg Toland (his next job would be Citizen Kane for Orson Welles) shot the film like a WPA documentary. His black-and-white images are utterly realistic yet achingly beautiful. And the performances from Jane Darwell (who won an Oscar) and Henry Fonda – who in Tom Joad found the greatest character of his storied career – are quietly spectacular.
If only we could strike it rich, then our problems would be over. Right? Not according to John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which demonstrates that with newfound wealth comes plenty of bad baggage: bloodthirsty bandits, betrayal, and madness. Shot almost entirely in Mexico (one of the first Hollywood movies made on a foreign location) and oozing authenticity with every frame, this superb adventure won two Oscars for John Huston (directing and screenplay) and another (supporting actor) for his father – the only such father-son win in Academy history.
The Lady Eve is one of the great screwball comedies. Barbra Stanwyk is a con artist who sets her sights on the bumbling heir to a brewing fortune (Henry Fonda). He’s not all that bright to begin with, and having just come off a couple of years in the South American jungles catching snakes he’s particularly vulnerable to the lady’s charms.
The greatest swashbuckling film of all time almost bit the dust with a mid-production change in directors. But from a potential disaster arose what the New York Times’ Frank Nugent deemed “A richly produced, bravely bedecked, romantic, and colorful show … it can be calculated to rejoice the eights, rejuvenate the eighties, and delight those in between.” The Technicolor production is spectacular with castles, pageantry, gorgeous costumes. The style is lighthearted yet mythic, crammed with both bravura heroics and comic panache.