Across generators of actors, Henry Fonda stood tall as one of the movie world’s brightest and most eternally shining stars. His sheer presence on the screen, married to his wild talent as a narrative performer, not to mention his ability to play a wide range of characters, left the cinema icon as one of the most memorable heroes the film industry has ever known.
Whether he was performing in a light comedy or a drama of a truly serious nature, Fonda could do it all, and, most importantly, he could do it well. One of his most iconic roles, playing Tom Joad in John Ford’s film version of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, proved that Fonda could take a literary character and make it his own.
In fact, when Fonda was asked about the movies that he considers his best, he couldn’t help but name the 1940 John Ford movie as one of his top choices. He told Dick Cavett: “I think Grapes of Wrath has to be on the list because it’s become a classic,” and he was completely right in asserting its legendary status within the film world.
Ford captures the struggle and mission for work and for life itself of Steinbeck’s Joad family as they move from their poor Oklahoma home to California in search of jobs, money and food. There’s a striking accuracy in Ford’s film version, and it largely comes down to Fonda’s remarkable performance as Tom. Together, the pair create a moving examination of injustice and the human battle against it.
However, that’s not the only film that Fonda has a deep pride in Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, released back in 1957, a movie that has a personal resonance in Fonda, who noted “12 Angry Men has to be on the list because that’s my Easy Rider. I produced it. So I’m proud of that on more than one level.”
12 Angry Men is one of the most intensely gripped court dramas of all time and perhaps set a precedent for the several films in the genre that followed over the proceeding decades. It takes place in a jury room brimming with tension and focuses on 12 men who question themselves and one another when they are tasked with deciding whether to convict or acquit a teenager charged with murder.
Check out the trailer for The Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men to get a taste of the movies Henry Fonda is most proud of.