"I am an American born Chinese, and I am very impressed by this exceptionally fine production of "The Good Earth". I am also not bothered by the casting of Caucasian actors, Paul Muni and Luise Rainer, in the lead roles. This was an expensive production for MGM. They understandably sought well-known stars who could draw audiences into movie theaters. Muni and Rainer were both Oscar winners with the name recognition and prestige that MGM needed to make this project viable.I give enormous credit to Thalberg and MGM for hiring a mostly Chinese cast and for bringing a story about Chinese peasants to the screen in the first place. In the 1930's, the world was much more provincial than it is today. It took courage for MGM to undertake such a project as "The Good Earth". As it turned out, the studio's foresight paid off because this movie achieved both critical and popular success when originally released. The 1937 version of "The Good Earth" most assuredly stands the test of time. As other reviewers have so eloquently expressed here, every aspect of this production is superb with emphasis on the skillful direction and special effects. The special effects in this movie are even more realistic than alot of the effects you see in today's movies. Mercifully, they used REAL locusts in the 1937 version of "The Good Earth". If "The Good Earth" were filmed today, "animatronic" locusts or computer generated images of locusts would be used instead. Those generally are not as convincing as the real thing.But what really sets this movie apart from other great films are the quality of the two lead performances by Paul Muni and Luise Rainer. Muni's character, Wang Lung, is a poor, unsophisticated farmer. Muni could have easily portrayed him as a caricatural "hick from the sticks" or as a bumbling ethnic stereotype. Instead, he gives the farmer depth and universality as a decent, hardworking man who has not had the advantages of education or travel, but who wants to make life better for his family. Wang Lung is basically a simple man, yet he is not simple-minded. Muni is able to convey the keen intelligence and drive beneath the farmer's lack of worldly experience.Luise Rainer is a revelation as the farmer's wife, O-Lan. O-Lan's quiet strength, selflessness, and dignity are poignantly suggested by the gifted Miss Rainer whose slightest gestures, glances, or whispers can make the audience feel tidal waves of empathy and emotion.I only wish that more people were familiar with this brilliant and ethereally beautiful actress. Miss Rainer's performance as O-Lan seems to transcend acting and enter the realm of spiritualism. It's truly one of the great performances by any actor in any medium. For that alone, you must see this movie."
WINNER FOR VISUAL EFFECTS . . . EVEN TODAY !
mcHaiku | Brown County INDIANA | 03/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Good Earth" must be considered a "milestone movie." As yet, there is no DVD but one packed with out-takes about the making of this film would be especially welcome. There was no Oscar given for outstanding visual effects until 1939; otherwise, "The Good Earth" would have 'taken home' that award!
The lovely Luise Ranier did win "Best Actress" award. The 1937 movie was based on Pearl Buck's novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Interest in "The Good Earth" was revived in Fall 2004 when it was selected for "Oprah's Book Club". Perhaps women's rights advocates should also give it a boost?
The story is about China in the 1900s. A simple farmer, Wang Lung, is 'given' (by his father) the slave O-Lan, for his bride. I do not remember much from childhood about this film, but I definitely do not recall Paul Muni having such a mouthful of teeth! (special effecrs?!) Luise Ranier had won an Oscar the previous year for her role in the "Ziegfield Follies" -- what a contrast! Here she is the completely docile, loyal wife; as someone wrote, she was bound to her husband in "eternal servitude." And her devotion was betrayed. Partly through the machinations of "Uncle". At every time of crisis in the story along comes (GROAN!) the crafty, manipulatve uncle (Walter Connolly) who whines & wheedles - - inserting humor (?) into the script and at the same time destroying family amity.
From the Internet Movie Database are the prophetic words of former slave O-Lan: "When I go back in that house, it will be with my son in my arms. I'll have a red coat on him... and red flower trousers... and a hat with a gilded Buddha and tiger-faced shoes, and I'll go into the kitchen where I spent my days as a slave and into the great hall where the old mistress sits with her pipe, and I'll show myself and my son to all of them." (Smiles, contented) Wang Lung: "Well... Now, I... I haven't heard you speak so many words since you came to this house."
Isn't the photography impressive for having been shot nearly seventy years ago? I found the quality of framed camera shots surprising & the production of many scenes quite amazing. READ Susan Wong's wonderfully perceptive review on amazon.com.
Today's movie-goers don't seem to care about "true life" documentation in films, but animation couldn't convince as the 1930s true-life locusts do! That tired word "awesome" truly fits this vintage film: the choking drought & famine, the beautiful 'condensed' story of harvesting when they must survive the fury of a storm, and the terrifying scenes of revolutionary uprisings.
REVIEWER mcHAIKU HAILS THIS FILM, and others that made an impact on my childhood! "
Superb MGM effort in every department
Simon Davis | 05/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Good Earth" would have to go down in film history as probably one of the supreme efforts in 1930's film making with its attention to detail and special efforts really unrivalled at that time. The legendary Irving J. Thalberg, the force behind so many stunning MGM productions spent years in preparation on the film version of the acclaimed Pearl S. Buck's Pulizer Prize winning novel "The Good Earth". Thalberg in his drive for absolute quality in movie making actually had a film unit go to China and film some of the location shots which appear throughout the film to add authenticity. The film was given a staggering budget of over 3 million dollars which was unheard of at the time. The film also provided employment for countless Chinese extras and supporting performers for its long production schedule. Unfortunately after all the effort put into this work Irving Thalberg did not live to see the finished product and died just before its release. "The Good Earth" has the distinction of being the one production where Irving Thalberg's name actually appears on the credits. He normally refused to ever have his work acknowledged letting the film stand on its own merits but in this instance the film is dedicated to him which is a fitting tribute to a brilliant man, one of the most dedicated filmmakers Hollywood has produced.What makes "The Good Earth' so special is first of all the magnificent cast and performers used and secondly the beautiful photography and exceptional special effects employed. Paul Muni and Luise Rainer are both excellent in their roles of peasant farmer Wang Lung and his freed slave wife O -Lan. I wont waste the readers time getting involved in the supposed issue of there being Caucasian actors as Chinese leads . All I can say is so what? Both are superb and if only those actors of particular races performed characters of their own race you would be deprived of some of the greatest acting performances in film history. The attempts at portraying Chinese characters via makeup etc here, as in another film "Dragon Seed" ,are fascinating and really add interest to the overraul production. Luise Rainer won the Academy Award that year for her role and was up against stiff competition from Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyck. She is exceptional as the former slave who undergoes years of hardship and deprivation to see her husband grow in prosperity and to produce 3 children and see them grow into adults. She is at times subdued, assertive, proud and determined and makes O-Lan a fully dimensional character. Alot of her performance is done with minimal dialogue which makes her character so much more memorable.Like any MGM production the supporting players play a great role in enhancing the overraul effect. Walter Connolly so often specialising in playing the bumbling father etc here plays Uncle, a character who has a devious streak but is not above using Wang Lung for his own selfish ends. Charley Grapewin is also very effective as Paul Muni's father a character who observes the comings and goings over the years with an observant and at time cynical eye. Jesse Ralph also scores in a very small role of "Cuckoo" the woman in charge of Rainer's character prior to her marriage who sees no good in anyone. Special mention must also be made to two fine young Chinese actors Keye Luke and in particular Roland Lui who play the two sons of Wang Lung. They have important roles in this production and really put paid to other reviewers arguing about no Asian actors being used in prominent roles in this production. Roland Lui has an important part to play when he falls in love with his own fathers mistress. I dont know what ever happened to this fine young actor but in this role he is excellent in his display of guilt and remorse.No review of "The Good Earth" would be complete without mention of the exceptional special effects. The splendid outdoor set spread over many acres in the San Fernando Valley was turned into rural China and is amazing in its realistic look. The Locust plague at the end of the film would have to be without a doubt one of the most stunning pieces of filmaking ever created right up there with the hurricane storm from 1937's "The Hurricane" It is so startlingly vivid in its realism that you feel that you are involved in it yourself and it leaves a strange feeling after having been viewed. The scenes of drought are also honest in their depiction of how it affects all living things whether it be plant, animal or human. The film covers a number of years in the two peoples lives and also covers many important events in China's history and reveals how they affected the ordinary farmers lives. We see the effects of the Chines revolution, years of drought, years of good harvests and prosperity. Indeed the earth itself is never very far from the centre of all the characters lives and determines their fortunes.Viewing "The Good Earth" is a memorable experience. It never fails to affect me by its sheer scale and look but it has the benefit of presenting along the way beautiful characterisations and small pieces of interest whether it be the birth of a child, a special meal, the planting of a fruit tree seed in the earth. The "Earth" as such directs this story and indeed as the earth will go on enriching future generations so will this film masterpiece, a fitting last work for Irving Thalberg, continue to entertain and move generations of film lovers to come. In this way "The Good Earth" will be preserved for prosterity."
Nominated For Best Picture in 1937
Peter Kenney | Birmingham, Alabama, USA | 06/10/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE GOOD EARTH is a screen adaptation of Pearl Buck's story about a poor Chinese farmer (Paul Muni) and how he is lifted out of poverty by the efforts of a sturdy wife (Luise Rainer) who was formerly a slave. After becoming prosperous Muni acquires a young second wife (Tilly Losch), an event which leads to considerable turmoil and scandal for him and his family.Performances by Muni and Rainer were excellent. Both incidentally were born in Austria. Rainer had already won an Oscar in 1936 for THE GREAT ZIEGFELD in only her second Hollywood role. Much has been made about the lack of Chinese actors in the lead roles but the fact that there were still so many Asian actors in the cast was rather unusual for the times. Soo Yong, Keye Luke and Roland Lui filled important supporting roles.Keye Luke plays Muni's elder son. He is best remembered for his numerous appearances in Charlie Chan movies. Luke is also respected for his fine acting in more than one hundred films and thirty television shows during a distinguished career which lasted over forty years.The movie was produced at the height of the Sino-Japanese War. The special effects were outstanding for that period just before the outbreak of World War II.THE GOOD EARTH received Oscars for Best Actress (Luise rainer) and Cinematography. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director (Sidney Franklin) and Editing. The main competition for Oscars in 1937 came from THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS and THE AWFUL TRUTH."
Another Showcase for LUISE RAINER
D. Parisi | New Jersey | 08/14/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Good Earth is a curio amongst 1930s films. It is a wonderful adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's famous novel about Chinese peasant farmers and their struggle to succeed and prosper. The lead characters are, for the most part, portrayed by white stars. (But the performances are so good that film studies classes that I have shown this film to have not been able to tell.) The story is engrossing, the music is authentic, the cinematography is breathtaking, the script is intelligent, the acting is magnificent, and the result is a triumphant masterpiece.The Good Earth tells the story of Wang Lung, the farmer. The picture opens on his wedding day, as he awakes, eager and excited about his arranged marriage soon to take place. Later, he meets his wife, O-Lan, and they work hard together, have numerous children, and become successful. But a devastating famine nearly starves their entire community, and the family is forced to migrate. While away, the Revolution occurs, and the characters get caught right in the middle of the sweep and emotion of the times. Thanks to a lucky discovery, the Lung family returns to their home and again amasses great wealth. However, this newfound abundance of riches tears Wang away from the land he once so dearly treasured, as he becomes more interested in material things. Then, a horrible plague of locusts threatens to ruin the town?s crop a second time, and Wang?s eldest son helps to organize the farmers in defeating the insects. In one of thirties cinema?s most spectacular scenes, the devastating locusts swarm into the valley and the townspeople do all in their power to halt their destruction. They use fire to burn them, water to drown them, and eventually must resort to using their hands and shovels to stop them. This event gives Wang a ?wake-up call? as he realizes all he has neglected. He returns to the good earth and patches up the problems that have risen in his personal life. The picture closes on the eve of his son?s wedding, as he reminisces with the dying
O-Lan of their own wedding and eternal love. And as O-Lan slips into death, he finally realizes that she is the greatest, most loyal companion he could have ever asked for. ?I?d sell all my land if I could heal you,? he tells his wife. Mustering up all her final strength to reply to him, she says ?No. I would not let you, for I must die sometime, but the land will be there after me.? Wang goes out upon his vast land and stands beside the peach tree O-Lan planted on the night of their wedding, as he surveys the earth which has been so good to him all these years.Sidney Franklin, who directed the film, made many memorable pictures, but he is not a great director. Luise Rainer still swears by him as one of the most understanding directors she has worked with. His ability to pull a performance out of his stars is where he had great talent, but the other aspects of his direction seem to lack originality. Still, every other aspect of The Good Earth more than compensates for this. The special effects, the camera-work, and the performances are first rate. Paul Muni, as Wang, is fantastic, but still it is Luise Rainer who lends to the film its most moving moments. As O-Lan, Rainer communicates countless emotions with her eyes and her gestures than even the greatest orator could never express. It?s no surprise that the actress won her second Oscar for the remarkable performance. She stole The Great Ziegfeld from William Powell and Myrna Loy (and won an Oscar for it, too), she grabbed Dramatic School from Paulette Goddard and Lana Turner, she purloined The Great Waltz from operatic diva Miliza Korjus, and in 1997, sixty years after she made The Good Earth, she took her ten minutes in The Gambler and overshadowed Michael Gambon and the rest of the cast. If for nothing else, The Good Earth is a great picture simply for her performance?but there?s so much more in it too."