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#154. Henry Fonda

Few families have spanned the majority of film quite like the Fondas. With Bridget Fonda, who is the daughter of Peter Fonda, who is the son of Henry Fonda, this dynasty of a film family has been on the silver screen since 1935. That’s nearly 80 years! Plus, the patriarch of this family, Henry Fonda has even appeared on the screen with his daughter, Jane Fonda (sister to Peter), in the film On Golden Pond. The simplest statement of Henry Fonda’s acting came after his death by former actor, Ronald Reagan, “a true professional dedicated to excellence in his craft. He graced the screen with a sincerity and accuracy which made him a legend.” Even if he didn’t receive much recognition during his life, we all know his name now. This week’s two films examine some roles that made Henry Fonda a legend.

The Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath
Year: 1940
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours

For someone who is a well-known actor, it is surprising that Henry Fonda didn’t win more awards. His first nomination for acting was fairly early in his career for his role of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. 41 years later, he finally won that Best Actor statuette for his performance in On Golden Pond, one year after he accepted a Lifetime Achievement award from the Academy. Unfortunately, On Golden Pond was his last film, as he died the next year in 1982. And yet, his portrayal of Tom Joad is so widely recognized as a piece of American popular culture that the American Film Institute placed this character at #12 of the top 50 heroes of cinema. That’s not to mention that the film itself has ranked as high as #21 on their list of the top 100 films created in the last 100 years (#21 in 1997, #23 in 2007). In comparison, it was ranked much higher than 12 Angry Men, which placed at #87.

When Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) is released from prison, he heads home to Oklahoma, only to find that he no longer has a home to return to. It seems that the sharecroppers were all being forced off of their farms by the land owners. This is why, when Tom finally finds his family, they decide to head to California in the hope that there will be jobs for them there. During their travels across the states, not only does Grandpa Joad (Charley Grapewin) die, but Grandma Joad (Zeffie Tilbury) too. If these deaths didn’t get the family down, the reports that there’s no work in California are liable to dash their spirits. And yet, they continue on with a small sliver of hope. They eventually find it, just as Tom accidentally kills a man, getting scarred in the process. This causes the family to pick up and keep trudging along in hopes of a brighter future.

12 Angry Men12 Angry Men
Year: 1957
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

Much like James Stewart, Henry Fonda enlisted in the armed services so that he could fight in World War II. In fact, he worked with Stewart to help raise funds for the war effort. He felt that his duty as an American was to serve in the Navy instead of acting in a fake war for a movie. Another duty all Americans share is that of Jury duty. Henry Fonda more than likely served his duty there as well, but we know that he also portrayed a juror in the film 12 Angry Men. For whatever reason, the Academy Awards he was nominated for (in this case, Best Picture) have to do with anger, considering his nomination in the aforementioned The Grapes of Wrath. Once again, Fonda’s performance in 12 Angry Men was so memorable that the American Film Institute placed his character of Juror #8 at #28 of the top 50 heroes of cinema.

In New York City, 12 jurors are deliberating on the fate of a teenager who was accused of stabbing his father. Because of the homicidal nature of the trial, a guilty verdict would be linked to a death sentence for the teen. Even though a lot of the evidence was damning, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) still feels there is some doubt that the kid is guilty and thus keeps the jury from a unanimous decision. From this point, Juror #8 proceeds to break down all the evidence presented in order to show everyone that perhaps the defendant is not guilty. Over time, many of the jurors switch their votes as their reasons for voting “guilty” are shown to be based on faulty thinking. Even so, there are many jurors holding onto their “guilty” votes based off of their personal prejudices and experiences. Will Juror #8 be able swing an almost unanimous “guilty” to “not guilty”?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 furious Fonda roles

Bacon #: 2 (Rollercoaster / Steve Guttenberg -> Diner / Kevin Bacon)

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One response to “#154. Henry Fonda

  1. Pingback: End of Act Three | Cinema Connections

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