I saw this film for the first time today. I've wanted to see it for a while now, particularly for Henry Fonda's performance (which has been oftentimes considered one that should have won an Oscar--well, now I can say, Oscars aside, it was a great performance).
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is based on John Steinbeck's novel of the same name which was published in 1939. The film chronicles the Joad family, who lose the rights to their Oklahoma farm and embark on a gruelling journey to California to find work. The film is set at the time of the Great Depression, during which starvation and suffering were widespread.
Coming into the film I didn't realise it was going to be as sad and moving as it was. Hardships strike the family through the film and because you're there every step of the way, you really find yourself indentifying with them. Even so, there's never any "cheap" attempts/devices at the audience's sympathy, the film shows things as they were (and still are in poverty-stricken places). The inspiring thing of the film is that it shows how strong the human spirit is. It also speaks out against injustice--people who are poor shouldn't be exploited and treated as secondary human beings, they have as much dignity as the next human being, and it's beautiful to see as Tom Joad (Henry Fonda's character) begins to realise he needs to fight for his rights.
The other thing that strikes me about the film is the cinematography. The landscape is captured so well, various shots are captured from interesting compositions and I also liked the lighting/use of shadows in different shots--all this adds to the film and to the feelings which one comes away with. Much of this should be credited to the director John Ford, who I haven't seen a great deal of films of, but he's someone who I'm becoming more curious about.
In a word, this film is fascinating. Its impact is still very much with me some seven or so hours after I've seen it.