The Sea of Grass (film)
|The Sea of Grass|
|Directed by||Elia Kazan|
|Written by||Conrad Richter
|Music by||Herbert Stothart|
|Editing by||Robert Kern|
|Release dates||April 25, 1947|
|Box office||$4.5 million (rentals)|
The Sea of Grass is a 1947 western-drama film. It was directed by Elia Kazan and based on the novel of the same name by Conrad Richter. The movie stars Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Melvyn Douglas.
According to "The Films of Katharine Hepburn", MGM had reels of stock footage of prairie, so the majority of the film was shot against a process screen showing this 'sea of grass' stock footage. Despite the talent involved in the film, Kazan was reportedly so embarrassed by it that he urged people not to see it.
The film opens in St. Louis on Lutie Cameron's (Katharine Hepburn) wedding day. As she dresses, she receives a telegram from her fiancee Col. Brewton (Spencer Tracy) ordering her to board the train for Salt Fork, New Mexico to marry him there instead. The first person she meets in the town is Brice Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas), who warns her that she is bound for unhappiness with Brewton. He takes her over to the courthouse where she witnesses Brewton testifying against a settler who had tried to stake a claim to part of Brewton's cattle ranch.
Back at his ranch, Brewton takes her out to see the sweeping plain of grass and explains how he had settled it, fighting with the Indians for the land and making it fit for ranching. He opposed the settlers because he knew the land did not get enough rain to sustain farming. Lutie struggles to see what Brewton sees in the grasses, but she tries to make the most of her new home.
She convinces Brewton to allow a family of settlers onto the ranch, because she had befriended one of them. Brewton warns her that the settlers will not last more than six months, due to some unforeseeable, but certain, circumstance. When Lutie visits the settlers as they build their sod house, she is surprised to see Chamberlain. He is visiting the settlers because he helped them file their claim on Brewton's land. He rides with Lutie on her way back home and confesses his attraction to her. Lutie similarly confesses her ongoing struggles to adapt to her new home and her husband's emotional distance.
Lutie gives birth to a daughter, Sara Beth. During a great blizzard, the settlers are alarmed by the sound of Brewton's cattle near their house. Fearful for his wheat crop, knowing its destruction would spell the ruin of his farm, the man runs out of the house with his rifle to scare off the cattle. When they stampede, he shoots one of the cows, and he also hits one of Brewton's workers, who were busy trying to herd the cattle in the storm. The rest of the ranch hands severely beat the man. His pregnant wife wades out into the storm to help him inside. The exertion makes her lose the baby. When Lutie learns of the incident with the settlers, she races out to their house, but they refuse to see her. With the crop and their baby lost, they are broken and concede the land to Brewton.
Brewton takes the news in stride, telling Lutie that he had warned her something like this would happen. Furious at his callousness, Lutie decides to leave Salt Fork for a while. She goes to Denver, and she is planning to return to St. Louis when she runs into Chamberlain. The two have a discreet affair, which convinces Lutie that it would be a mistake to leave Brewton. Back at Salt Fork, she gives birth to a boy named Brock, and she continues her struggle to find a place in Brewton's world.
Chamberlain successfully lobbies for a Federal District Court in Salt Fork, and he wins election as a judge, presiding over all land disputes. Brewton knows that this will mean a steady stream of settlers on his land. As he arms himself and his men to ward off the settlers, Lutie pleads with him to reconsider. In the abandoned sod house, as Brewton prepares his ammunition, he gets Lutie to confess to the affair with Chamberlain. She agrees to leave, but Brewton refuses to let her take the children.
Back in St. Louis, she consults a lawyer who tells her that if she will admit in court that Chamberlain is Brock's father she could win custody of her son, but she would certainly lose custody of Sara Beth. Convinced it would do more harm than good to fight, Lutie stays away. She returns after two years in a futile attempt to reconnect with her children, who do not recognize her. Chamberlain tries to get her to fight for Brock's custody so they can run away together as a family, but Lutie admits that she does not have enough love for Chamberlain to marry him.
As the years pass, the town doctor keeps Lutie informed about her children through letters. On his deathbed, he chides Brewton for being too emotionally distant from Lutie and driving her away. After his death, Chamberlain takes up the correspondence with Lutie, acknowledging that he expects nothing in return. He shares his concerns that Brock has grown into a reckless young man, too endowed with charm and luck to take responsibility for his actions.
For years, Brock has endured taunts from the townsfolk about his real father, but the truth has never been acknowledged outright. During a card game, his opponent begins referring to Brock only as "judge", invoking Chamberlain's profession. Brock is baited into a fight, and when his opponent draws his pistol, Brock shoots him in the stomach. Once he is bailed out of jail, he returns home and blithely confesses what happened to his father and his sister. His father insists that he must return to town and stand trial. In private, Brock confesses to his sister that he could not stand to see his father put through a trial because it would bring up the reason for the fight, humiliating him all over again. Brock decides to flee, and the sheriff pursues him with a posse. Brewton decides to go after him, once Sara Beth tells him why Brock skipped bail.
Brewton comes upon a cabin where the posse is exchanging gunfire with Brock who is holed up inside. Brewton walks into the cabin, but Brock has already been fatally shot. Having read in the newspaper that Brock was on the run, Lutie is returning to Salt Fork on the train. Just before it arrives, she receives the news that Brock has been killed, and she decides to keep traveling to San Francisco later that night. In town, she sees Brewton escorting Brock's body to the church, and she hides herself so as not to be seen. Sara Beth visits her in her hotel room and warns her not to see Brewton, because it would only stir up more trouble than she could stand. Lutie says that she was not planning on seeing anyone, and she tells Sara Beth that she is pleased to know that at least Brewton will have his daughter at his side to love him. Sara Beth breaks down and invites her mother back to the house where she reconciles with Brewton.
- Katharine Hepburn as Lutie
- Spencer Tracy as Col. Jim Brewton
- Robert Walker as Brock
- Melvyn Douglas as Brice Chamberlain
- Phyllis Thaxter as Sara Beth
- Edgar Buchanan as Jeff
The movie was the most popular commercially of all the Hepburn-Tracy films, making over $3 million domestically and $1.5 million overseas.
- James Curtis, Spencer Tracy: A Biography, Alfred Knopf, 2011 p539-549
- Variety film review; February 12, 1947, page 14.
- Harrison's Reports film review; February 15, 1947, page 27.
- Kazan, Elia (2011). Elia Kazan: A Life. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 0307959341. "It's the only picture I've ever made that I'm ashamed of. Don't see it."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Sea of Grass (film).|