The Grapes of Wrath – Dusters

While looking for a short scene to study between revisions, I remembered how fond I was of this particular one from The Grapes of Wrath.

Although it took place during the Great Depression, it still resonates with me since the 2008 crash so I wanted to see how it holds up on a cinematic standpoint.

The obvious is that it has a short shot count for a 2 minutes scene for today’s standards. A singular shot like the 5th one can hold multiple characters talking back and forth without much movement.

Overall, characters are fairly static until Muley’s monologue in the last shot, characters and camera move to close the scene dramatically.

What makes it still gripping in every viewing is the intensity of the dialogue and how the staging maintains tension, allowing clear delivery without movement.

First, there’s a visual contrast between the man in the car and the farmers, then the distance and barrier created by the car sheltering the man away with his cold delivery and lack of empathy while the farmers in desperation and lost are more lively.

Muley’s starting monologue doesn’t rub on the Man, he spits his cigar bits while Muley makes an argument about his family legitimacy to keep the land, then leaves before he finishes. It’s class contempt at its best.

That closing beat happens when the camera breaks the 180 consistency throughout the whole scene, yet not jarring and wide enough to make the transition and show the exit. I can’t think of any other reason, although it may work as a closing device but I wouldn’t speculate on that.

All in all, it’s a great example of economy serving a clear and intense moment. Shots, as simple as they are, show everything we need to know about the class condition of the farmers and the Man, they are well framed and even the crowd shots are neatly staged with depth.

A cinematic classic and a reality check for my generation.

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