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The Film Programs of the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre

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Looking Back

March 1940

Step back in time to see what area movie theaters were presenting in March 1940. Film titles are linked to the Internet Movie Database.

For more information about these theaters, see Cinema Treasures or Water Winter Wonderland.


The Grapes of Wrath, the movie version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by John Steinbeck, opened in Detroit on Friday, March 1, 1940, at the Fox Theatre. This 20th Century-Fox production had earlier premiered in New York City on January 24, 1940.

"Its greatness as a picture lies in many things, not all of them readily reducible to words," wrote Frank S. Nugent in The New York Times on January 25, 1940. "It is difficult, for example, to discuss John Ford's direction, except in pictorial terms. His employment of camera is reportage and editorial and dramatization by turns or all in one."

"A salute goes to the entire cast for character performances remarkable in their realism," wrote Al Weitschat of The Detroit News on March 2, 1940. "The acting is so skillful one never gets the impression of Hollywood make-believe, but feels the 'Okies' themselves have taken over the screen."

"Jane Darwell equals her best previous work as Ma Joad, who smilingly defies the forces that tear the family apart bit by bit," wrote Len G. Shaw of The Detroit Free on March 2, 1940. "Henry Fonda is nothing short of grand as young Tom, who takes matters much more philosophically than would be expected under the circumstances."

Appearing with The Grapes of Wrath at the Fox was the 1903 feature The Great Train Robbery, Fox Movietone News, and selected short subjects. Also opening in Detroit on March 1 were I Take This Woman (Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr) at the Michigan; and The Return of Dr. X (Humphrey Bogart in an offbeat role before he reached stardom) at the Palms-State Theatre.

Other Detroit movies on March 1 included Gone with the Wind, in its sixth week at the United Artists and the Wilson Theatre. Hedy Lamarr also starred in the controversial Ecstasy at the Fine Arts (Woodward at Gratiot). The Redford was showing a double bill of Swanee River (Al Jolson, Don Ameche) and Dead End Kids on Dress Parade.

At the Fox, The Grapes of Wrath followed a run of Little Old New York (Alice Faye, Fred MacMurray). It played at the Fox until March 14, and then played one more week in downtown Detroit, at the Adams, on a bill with You Nazty Spy! (The Three Stooges) and a screen version of the radio show Information Please.

The Grapes of Wrath opened in Detroit area neighborhood theaters (including the Redford) on Friday, May 10, 1940. At the Redford, The Grapes of Wrath played until May 13, along with Laurel and Hardy in A Chump at Oxford.

Ann Arbor audiences were treated to the opening of The Grapes of Wrath at the Wuerth on Sunday, May 5, 1940. It played for three days, with the Warner Brothers cartoon Porky's Hotel and the Robert Benchley short That Inferior Feeling. Also that day, the Michigan hosted The Doctor Takes a Wife (Loretta Young, Ray Milland) and a live appearance by Henry Busse and his Orchestra.

Also in Ann Arbor on May 5 were Young Tom Edison (Mickey Rooney) at the Majestic; Destry Rides Again (Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart) and Television Spy at the Orpheum; and High School (Jane Withers) and Allegheny Uprising (Claire Trevor, John Wayne) at the Whitney.

Click here to see a PDF of newspaper images relating to the opening of The Grapes of Wrath.


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Launched November 25, 2005.

Last updated August 30, 2014.

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