Directed by Sidney Franklin, Victor Fleming & Gustav Machatý
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by Pearl S. Buck (novel)
Donald Davis (play)
Owen Davis (play)
Starring Paul Muni
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Karl Freund
Editing by Basil Wrangell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date January 29, 1937
Running time 138 min.
I like old movies but even I can see that one area where old-Hollywood got things dreadfully wrong was with race. Even in the 21st century this has been one area where the movies have struggled although things are better than they were when The Good Earth was made in 1937. Firstly you’d expect a film about Chinese farmers in China to feature Chinese actors playing the roles, but you’d be really wrong. Here Paul Muni of Scarface fame plays Wang Lung, whilst Luise Rainer won the best actress Oscar (her second) for her portrayal of O-Lan despite the fact that she did so with a heavy German accent.
Apparently producer Irving Thalberg wanted to cast and all Chinese cast but Louis B. Mayer thought that the film going public would not be ready for this. Anna Mae Wong was asked to play Lotus, the seductress, to give the film some authenticity, but she angrily declined the role because she was angry that all the main roles were played in yellow-face by Caucasians and that she would be asked to play the least sympathetic role.
Over-all the acting is hammy, the dialogue ridiculous and stereotypes abound. The film may have been tolerable if there had been Asians at least playing the Asian characters as the yellow-face just makes the film worse than it probably is.
By the way just a note to all Foxtel subscribers that everyone gets the movie channels free for the next two weeks. I saw The Good Earth on TCM.
- Monarch of the Movie Set (online.wsj.com)