The story of a farmer in China: a story of humility and bravery. His father gives Wang Lung a freed slave as wife. By diligence and frugality the two manage to enlarge their property. But then a famine forces them to leave their land and live in the town. However it turns out to be a blessing in disguise for them...Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
American-born Chinese actress Anna May Wong desperately wanted the role of O-Lan. Being a close friend of author Pearl S. Buck helped. She tested for the role, but producer Irving Thalberg was unsatisfied. Also, since Paul Muni, a Caucasian actor, had already been cast in the lead, Thalberg knew he couldn't cast Wong as Muni's wife. The Hays Code prohibited actors of different races from playing husband/wife couples on film (this was to avoid offending white audiences in the strictly segregated American South, where there were stringent laws against mixed-race marriages). Thalberg offered her the "vamp" role of Lotus, but a distraught Anna May turned it down. See more »
Unexplained sequence of events or possible error in continuity. Toward the beginning of the film, Farmer Wang walks to the Great House to meet his bride, O-Lan. He is carrying a basket. It appears to be empty. As he enters a market, the farmer declines to buy peaches. We don't see him purchase goods or trade for anything. We don't see him filling the basket. However, the next scene shows him at the door of the house with a full basket. Later, he does buy peaches. At this point, however, we're still not made aware how he has money or silver. See more »
What Irving Thalberg did in making this film today would never be attempted again. Making a Chinese story with occidental players even if they are of the caliber of Paul Muni, Luise Rainer, Charley Grapewin, and Walter Connolly among others.
Perhaps it's partly because the story was written by a westerner, Pearl Buck who got a Pulitzer Prize for her novel in 1932. Ms. Buck, daughter of Chinese missionaries, probably brought China closer to the consciousness of America than any other person. Not the political struggles of China, but the lives and toil of the every day people we find in The Good Earth. Unfortunately later on, Pearl Buck became an apologist for the Kuomintang China of Chiang Kai-Shek in all its virtues and excesses. The rest of her literary output never matched The Good Earth.
In The Sundowners there is a great description of comparing China to Australia by Peter Ustinov. When asked the difference, Ustinov said China was very big and very full and Australia was very big and very empty. That's what you see in The Good Earth, China very big and very full of people, more than she can deal with at times.
The Good Earth tells the story of Wang Lung (Paul Muni) as a young man who purchases a wife from a large house where she was a slave. The woman O-Lan (Luise Rainer) bears him two sons and sees him through all the good times and bad they have, drought, famine, revolution, and a climatic locust plague.
Luise Rainer won the second of two consecutive Oscars for portraying O-Lan. She may have set some kind of record in that it has to be the leading player Oscar performance with the least amount of dialog. Everything she does practically is done with facial expressions, her performance could have been on a silent film with very minimal subtitles. I think only John Mills in Ryan's Daughter had fewer words and he was playing a mentally retarded man.
Muni is not always appreciative of how supportive she is in that male dominated culture. Rainer helps in the field, bears and raises the kids, does the housework. When Muni becomes a man of property he takes a Chinese second trophy wife who causes him a lot of grief. Still Rainer stoically bears it all. Still Muni is not a bad man and it's a tribute to the film and his acting and Buck's writing that you don't hate him and the culture gap is bridged.
We've got a group of oriental players now who do more than just Kung Fu movies. I'm surprised The Good Earth of all films has not been remade at this point. I'll bet the Chinese government would even let some American company do it on an actual location.
Till then we've got this great classic to appreciate and enjoy.
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