Monday, 18 February 2013

The Sea of Grass (1947)

"It's the only picture I've made that I'm ashamed of. Don't see it,:
       - Elia Kazan on The Sea of Grass in his autobiography

Throughout it's time, The Sea of Grass has made 4.5 million dollars with a budget of 2 million dollars. This means it made 225% percent of it's budget. At first glance, one might consider that to be a great achievement. However, On The Waterfront had a budget of $900, 000 and it brought in just under $10 million. That means On The Waterfront made 111% or so of it's original budget, a success that clearly far surpasses The Sea of Grass.

What would draw someone to see The Sea of Grass? The first option could be Elia Kazan. Although this was a film he suggested nobody see, his name would definitely draw a lot of people in. I know for a fact that he is the only reason for which I just watched The Sea of Grass. The two other possible reasons for The Sea of Grass to draw in a crowd would be because of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. They had a charming, classic Hollywood chemistry that brought many to the theatres to explore the fun those two would have. Their partnership began with Woman of the Year in 1942. Later on, it included Adam's Rib and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. The Sea of Grass is considered to be their weakest film. If you give it some general consideration, Woman of the Year and Adam's Rib were screwball comedies that demonstrated both actors' comedic talent. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner works as it bases it's character relationships on the fact that over the past years we have seen Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn act together, we understand them, and when we see them as an old married couple we can easily sympathize with them and truly want the best for them. That said, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is not a great place to start watching Tracey and Hepburn films as you must be familiar with their chemistry to enjoy it fully. To get back on topic, a reason that I would predict The Sea of Grass does not work as those three other hits did, is perhaps because it was a straight romance-drama when we knew little of the chemistry between Tracey and Hepburn. It was their fourth film and their second and third films had not been massive hits. That said, The Sea of Grass did not go down in history the way some other Tracey and Hepburn films went down in history.

Generally, its not great publicity for a director to denounce their own film and declare it to be an example of poor film-making. Why exactly did Elia Kazan disapprove of The Sea of Grass? Most likely for the same reasons as every other average person (some examples of this reasoning will appear in THE CRITICISM, below). Many sympathize with Kazan in that it is said that he was not in fault when he made The Sea of Grass. The studio put him up to it after the success of his debut film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The public generally accuses Conrad Richter and Marguerite Robert for the poor quality of The Sea of Grass, as they were the writers of the screenplay. However, I am certain that Kazan could have made a few edits to improve the film, that he did not.

The Sea of Grass currently stands with a 6.5 on IMDb and a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes.

A woman from St. Louis named Lutie Cameron goes to marry a New Mexico cattleman named James B. Brewton. After their marriage, James B. Brewton shares "the sea of grass" with Lutie. The sea of grass is a sprawling field of long grass the blows in the wind. James experienced many hardships when he moved to New Mexico and he lost his brother. The sea of grass remains a symbol of peace and a way for him to remember.

However, the local inhabitants of the near by village are not crazy about James. They despise the manner in which he keeps them away from "the sea of grass" in an attempt to use it for his personal cattle grazing! What on Earth should Luttie do? Is it correct for her to go on imagining everything is alright?

The Sea of Grass was a victim of misrepresentation. Many came to the film showings expecting a western as the trailer would have suggested. That said, nothing can hurt a film like advertising the suggests it is something it is not. For example, the 2011 film, Drive, suffered from poor audience reception as most of the audience came in expecting two hours of explosions. I bet a lot of men came to The Sea of Grass expecting to see Spencer Tracey having gun fights. Instead, they received a very slow classic.

Have I mentioned that nothing happens in this? The story dwindles and by half way through you're thinking "they should really have cut out a lot of this" and buy the end of the film you are thinking "wow... they should have cut out all of this!". For a film that is intended to make you feel the emotion of the drama, I sure was feeling board.

The Sea of Grass is a poor imagination that seemed as though it was written by a fourteen-year-old-girl who tries to write like as mature as possible so she can be like her idol Jane Austen. Yet the problem remains, she is fourteen... and she is a terrible writer. I felt like I was watching a replica of everything I'd seen before, Gone With The Wind, a little bit of the drama-romance portion of Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion and all those three hour long BBC classic literature adaptations.

Save your time and brain cells - don't watch The Sea of Grass.

The Sea of Grass,
Directed by Elia Kazan,
Starring: Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracey and Melvyn Dogulas
5.5/10 (D+)

1. Baby Doll
2. Panic in the Streets
3. Splendor in the Grass
4. East of Eden
5. The Last Tycoon
6. Viva Zapata!
7. Boomerang!
8. Pinky
9. Wild River
10. America, America
11. The Sea of Grass
12. Man on a Tightrope
13. The Arrangement

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