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This western begins with St. Louis resident Lutie Cameron (Katharine Hepburn) marrying New Mexico cattleman Col. James B. 'Jim' Brewton (Spencer Tracy) after a short courtship. When she arrives in "Salt Fork, NM" she finds that her new husband is considered by the locals to be a tyrant who uses force to keep homesteaders off the government owned land he uses for grazing his cattle--the so-called Sea of Grass. Lutie, has difficulty reconciling her husband's beliefs and passions with her own. Written by
Spencer Tracy. Cattle baron . . ruthless, rugged! Katharine Hepburn. Fiery . . . fascinating gal from St. Louis! Robert Walker. Gun-shooting and gambling fool! Melvyn Douglas. He knew women! Soft words, Soft looks! See more »
Card at beginning: This story takes place for the most part against the background of the sea of grass - that vast grazing empire which once covered the western part of north America from the great plains to the rocky mountains, and beyond. See more »
Lumbering Western Melodrama Slow On The Draw But Mostly On Target
The Sea Of Grass is slow moving and talky, but not as bad as many have portrayed it. If I told you without cluing you in on the title I had a top-production 1947 MGM picture staring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Melvyn Douglas, you would be expecting a glossy white telephone movie with a love triangle and lots of high melodrama from the three stars. That's essentially what you get here, only replace the white telephones with elk antler hat racks, the swank park avenue apartments with rambling ranch houses, and the busy New York street scenes with a dusty, one-horse, Nineteenth Century New Mexico town. The Sea Of Grass is a soap opera dressed up as a Western. If that is what you are expecting, instead of a traditional shoot-'em-up, you may be much more pleased with it.
The three stars deliver their usual stellar performances and three fine, textured character studies. Old, smoothie Douglas is particularly effective as a hard-edged attorney and later judge, cattle baron Tracy's stalwart opponent and Katherine's illicit lover, father of her second child. The large supporting cast shines, led by Edgar Buchanan and Harry Carry. Over rated Robert Walker is over-the-top as usual, but fun to watch. Production values are superb with terrific luminous, old nitrate black and white cinematography typical of the era, a rich Herbert Stodhart score, good, authentic costumes, great sets with some spectacular location scenery dovetailed in for long shots of Southwest grasslands and cliffs. Principally concentrating on relationships, the story moves along at a glacial pace, but the stars and an intelligent, if messy, script hold interest. Some of the dialog is a little preachy and overblown, but it is generally believable and satisfying. There is hardly any action until the last reels, and even then it is half-hearted and ultimately just peters out. The major subplot is the traditional Western theme of cattlemen versus homesteaders, but the eventual showdown comes early and is anti-climatic. Nevertheless, the movie is engrossing and enjoyable for the acting and the production values. It is refreshing to see a movie about the Old West that concentrates on decent real people and their real life problems instead of just dwelling on brawls between lowlifes who hang out in brothels and saloons.
The Sea Of Grass is not bad, but not as good as it should have been with all it had going for it. Director Elia Kazan reportedly said he was ashamed of the picture, and he should have been. The overly slow pacing, lack of spark between Tracy and Hepburn, and other problems clearly resulted from his flabby direction. With three top stars at the peaks of their careers, an intriguing story, and a big budget, The Sea Of Grass should have been a much better picture. And it would have been if Raoul Walsh had directed it.
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