THE SEA OF GRASS
(director: Elia Kazan; screenwriters: Marguerite Roberts/Vincent Lawrence/from the novel by Conrad Richter; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Robert J. Kern; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Spencer Tracy (Col. James Brewton), Katharine Hepburn (Lutie Cameron Brewton), Robert Walker (Brock Brewton), Melvyn Douglas (Brice Chamberlain), Phyllis Thaxter (Sara Beth Brewton), Edgar Buchanan (Jeff), Harry Carey (Doc Reid), Morris Ankrum (Crane), Robert Armstrong (Floyd McCurtin), Charles Trowbridge (George Cameron), Russell Hicks (Major Harney), Trevor Bardette (Andy Boggs), James Bell (Sam Hall), Robert Barrat (Judge White), William Phillips (Banty), Ruth Nelson (Ruth Nelson); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; MGM; 1947)
“Fails to deliver the required action for a western.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Elia Kazan (“On The Waterfront”/”East of Eden”/”Baby Doll”) directs, in his second film, this disappointing studio-bound epic western (the filmmaker to his credit wanted it shot on location). It’s a character study of a rugged cattle baron and his rocky marriage. Despite being lavishly produced and competently made, it’s annoyingly brooding, overlong, dreary and fails to deliver the required action for a western. It’s based on the novel by Conrad Richter, and is written by Marguerite Roberts and Vincent Lawrence. The grass in the title turns out to be the farm land that is under threat from barbed wire.
Colonel Jim Brewton (Spencer Tracy) owns the large ranch, Big Vega, near Salt Fork, New Mexico, and is married to the equally strong-willed St. Louis socialite Lutie Cameron (Katharine Hepburn). Brewton opposes homesteaders coming on his turf and is at first supported by his wife. But eventually she sours on his stern rigidity and leaves him. Lutie ends up in Denver, where she lives in sin with liberal attorney Brice Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas). He’s the mouthpiece behind the homesteaders’ cause. Lutie has a son by him. Years later Lutie’s boy Brock (Robert Walker) reaches manhood and because he lacks parental guidance becomes an outlaw and is killed by a posse.
It gives us an incredulous soap opera reality, as the couple is reunited in the end thanks to the efforts of their schoolgirl daughter Sara Beth (Phyllis Thaxter).
Too many things seem false about this old-fashioned farmer-rancher feud, including the casting of the stagy urbane drama/comedy stars in a western. They bring to the film their unneeded stage presence, making the melodramatics stilted and their character portrayals stiff.
REVIEWED ON 9/28/2014 GRADE: C+