The Good Earth


2h 18m 1937
The Good Earth

Brief Synopsis

Epic adaptation of the Pearl Buck classic about Chinese farmers battling the elements.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Historical
Release Date
Aug 6, 1937
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 29 Jan 1937; New York premiere: 2 Feb 1937
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (New York, 1931) and the play of the same name by Owen Davis and Donald Davis (New York, 18 Oct 1933).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 18m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White (Sepiatone)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
14 reels

Synopsis

Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer, awakens full of anticipation on his wedding day and proceeds to the Great House to fetch his bride, the kitchen slave O-Lan, who was sold into slavery by her parents during a time of famine. That night, the stolid O-Lan cooks and serves a wedding feast to Wang, Old Father, Uncle and friends. As time passes, O-Lan toils in the house and alongside her husband in the fields, even though she is now pregnant. On the day that she gives birth, O-Lan stays at home until a thunderstorm threatens the crops. Then, despite her pain, she joins her husband in the field to harvest the wheat. When she collapses, Wang carries her to the house, but she sends him back into the field and gives birth alone. Wang's prowess as a farmer soon helps him to prosper and he uses his accumulated silver to buy another field from the Great House, whose fortunes have begun to dwindle. With the passage of time, Wang amasses five fields and his family has grown to include three children: two sons and a daughter. As drought and its resulting famine spread throughout the countryside, their crops shrivel and die and O-Lan recalls the time when her parents sold her into slavery for food. Wang's greedy and indolent uncle urges him to sell his land for food and when Wang refuses, Uncle incites the villagers to plunder Wang's home for food and silver. Instead of the anticipated bounty, however, they find O-Lan preparing a soup made of the earth to nourish her starving family. Denouncing the earth for betraying them, Wang decides to sell his land, but O-Lan, even though enfeebled by hunger, forbids the sale and insists that they go south to await better times. The family travels to the Great City in the south where O-Lan and the children beg and steal in the streets for food. Word comes of rain in the north and revolution in the south, and soon the soldiers attack the Great House. In the ensuing chaos, O-Lan is knocked down and trampled in the street. Upon regaining consciousness, she finds a discarded bag of jewels beside her and conceals it in her bosom. Immediately after, she is arrested by soldiers who are shooting looters. As they prepare to search O-Lan, orders come for them to march, and she is spared. The proceeds from the jewels allow the family to return to their land and buy more fields. Wang continues to prosper and Elder Son makes plans to go to the University. One day, Uncle takes Wang to a tea house, where he becomes entranced by Lotus, an exquisite young dancer. Under Lotus' spell, Wang dons silken robes and foresakes the earth. He also criticizes O-Lan, who has become old and worn through years of drudgery and pain, and demands that she return the two pearls she kept from the treasure so that he can present them to Lotus when he makes her his second wife. When Wang moves his family into the Great House, Old Father denounces his son's lack of values. Lotus, bored with her life, seduces Younger Son and when Wang discovers their betrayal, he orders Younger Son out of his sight. An approaching swarm of locusts delays the boy's departure, however, and Wang and his sons return to the earth to join forces with the villagers in creating a wall of fire to prevent the insects from devestating the crops. As Wang, exhausted, is about to collapse, the wind shifts, taking the locusts with it and Wang decides to sell the Great House and return to the land. After her family is reunited, O-Lan's final act is to arrange the wedding of Elder Son. As she lies in bed, watching the festivities, Wang returns the pearls to her and declares his love. As he does so, O-Lan dies, content.

Crew

Marian Ainslee

Contr to Screenplay const

Wayne Allen

Orchestration

Peter Ballbusch

Mont Effects

James Basevi

Special Effects for locust seq

Hugh Boswell

Assistant Director

Pearl S. Buck

Technical Advisor

Charles G. Clarke

Chinese Photographer

Ben M. Cohen

Assistant Camera

Marc Connelly

Contr to Screenplay const

Russell Cully

Chinese Photographer

Jack Dawn

Makeup

Howard Dietz

Press rep

Max Factor

Wigs and makeup

Felix E. Feist

Test scenes wrt

Karl Freund

Photography

Dave Friedman

Special Effects for locust seq

Jules Furthman

Contr to Screenplay const

Chester Gann

Casting for Chinese extras and bits

Cedric Gibbons

Art Director

Arnold Gillespie

Art Director Associate

William Grady

Casting for Chinese extras and bits

Tom Gubbins

Chinese props, Costume and talent furnished by

James Havens

Special Effects for locust seq

Tom Held

Editor staff

Du Bose Heyward

Contr to Screenplay const

Mason Hooper

Backgrounds and process shots

Talbot Jennings

Screenwriter

James Lee

Technical Advisor

Albert Lewin

Associate Producer

Ben Lewis

Assistant Editor

Clarence Locan

Publicity staff

Walter Lundin

Loc Camera at Cedar City

Gustav Machaty

Director of process shots

Frances Marion

Contr to Screenplay const

Frank Messenger

Production Manager

Fred Niblo

2nd Unit Director

John M. Nickolaus

Lab Supervisor

Bessie Ochs

Tech adv in China

Harry Oliver

Art Director Associate

Yee On

Supervisor of landscapes

F. Suie One

Props and Chinese Artifacts

"dutch" Pettit

Pigtail braider

Leonid Raab

Orchestration

Ray Ramsey

Camera Operator

Franz Schulz

Contr to Screenplay const

Gabriel A. Scognamillo

Peachtree seq Designer

Douglas Shearer

Recording Director

Tess Slesinger

Screenwriter

H. C. Smith

Chinese Photographer

Herbert Stothart

Music Score

Frank Tanner

Still Photographer

Hezi Tate

Assistant Director

Irving Thalberg

Executive Producer

Frank Tong

Assistant to Harry Oliver

Dolly Tree

Wardrobe

Charles Trego

Mont Effects

Dr. Y. S. Tsao

Technical Advisor

General Ting Hsiu Tu

Technical Advisor

Slavko Vorkapich

Montage

Claudine West

Screenwriter

Western Costume Co.

Costumes

Edwin B. Willis

Art Director Associate

"newsreel" Wong

Chinese Photographer

Basil Wrangell

Film Editor

Photo Collections

The Good Earth - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from The Good Earth (1937). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Good Earth - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Good Earth (1937), starring Luise Rainer and Paul Muni, and directed by Sidney Franklin.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Historical
Release Date
Aug 6, 1937
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 29 Jan 1937; New York premiere: 2 Feb 1937
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (New York, 1931) and the play of the same name by Owen Davis and Donald Davis (New York, 18 Oct 1933).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 18m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White (Sepiatone)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
14 reels

Award Wins

Best Actress

1937
Luise Rainer

Best Cinematography

1937

Award Nominations

Best Director

1937
Sidney Franklin

Best Editing

1937
Basil Wrangell

Best Picture

1937

Articles

The Good Earth - The Good Earth


Based on Pearl S. Buck's 1931 novel, The Good Earth (1937) was the first of the author's works to be adapted for the screen. Buck, renowned for her depiction of Asian history and culture, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, which remained on the bestseller list for two years. The overwhelming success of the book drew the attention of Irving Thalberg, famed production head at MGM, who saw an opportunity to make a truly epic film. Reportedly, Thalberg had a difficult time convincing Louis B. Mayer of the movie's potential, however. During the initial discussion of the project, Mayer was quoted as asking, "Who wants to see a picture about Chinese farmers?"

It was Thalberg who convinced Mayer of the book's merits, describing the awesome struggles overcome by a husband and wife who draw both triumph and despair from the land that they love. He persuaded Mayer of the film's potential and successfully embarked on a massive production to portray the seemingly insurmountable obstacles faced by a family in a small province of China. Through his vision, persistence and no small amount of money, Thalberg was able to produce an amazing facsimile of the grueling hardships faced by the simple farming family, including famine, revolution and swarms of locusts.

The film's budget was $2.8 million, a small fortune at the time, and took three years to make. Although Pearl Buck intended the film to be cast with all Chinese or Chinese American actors, the studio opted to use established American stars, tapping Paul Muni and Luis Rainier for the lead roles. Both had won Oscars® the previous year; Rainier for her role in The Great Ziegfield and Muni for the lead in The Story of Louis Pasteur. When questioned about his choice of the American actors, Thalberg responded by saying, "I'm in the business of creating illusions."

To foster this illusion, both Rainier and Muni visited San Francisco's Chinatown to observe the customs of the people there. When altering his physical appearance, Paul Muni avoided the obvious; he did not assume the "slanted-eyed look". Instead he employed more subtle techniques, shaving off half of his eyebrows and part of his scalp hair and losing a substantial amount of weight. The most notable shift in the actor is in the way that he moves. He seems to change his entire persona, capturing even the most subtle nuances to transform himself into a rural Chinese peasant. As for Luis Ranier, her part involved fewer lines than most of the other characters but relies more heavily on the use of expressions and movement.

At the time, Rainier was somewhat of a nonconformist in Hollywood, often appearing in public without makeup and wearing slacks as opposed to the requisite dress and heels. She was very critical of the film industry and quite vocal about her beliefs, stating that she was, above all, a stage actress and not interested in celebrity for its own sake. When she was nominated for an Academy Award® as Best Actress for her role in this movie, she insulted Academy members by stating that she would not attend the ceremonies, unless she was guaranteed an award. When Louis B. Mayer heard Rainier was staying home the night of the ceremony he was furious. He sent officials from the studio to Rainier's home where she was found wearing pajamas and curlers in her hair. She was instructed to dress immediately and then taken to the Awards dinner. The actress did win the Oscar® and accepted the award appearing only slightly disheveled.

The Good Earth was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Best Direction (Sidney Franklin), Best Cinematography (Karl Freund), and Best Film Editing (Basil Wrangell). In addition to the Best Actress award, the film won for Best Cinematography.

Irving Thalberg died in 1936, just months before filming of The Good Earth was complete, never able to see his vision fully realized. Although he never credited himself on any picture, saying "credit you give yourself is not worth having," Louis B. Mayer made the following dedication at the beginning of the movie: "To the memory of Irving Grant Thalberg. We dedicate this picture, his last great achievement."

It was this same year that the Academy initiated the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. The award is given to recognize "the most consistent high level of production achievement for an individual producer" and continues to be a coveted honor today.

Producer: Irving Thalberg, Albert Lewin
Director: Victor Fleming (uncredited), Sidney Franklin, Gustav Machaty (uncredited)
Screenplay: Pearl S. Buck (novel), Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, Claudine West Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Film Editing: Basil Wrangell
Original Music: Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Paul Muni (Wang), Luise Rainer (O-Lan), Walter Connolly (Uncle), Tilly Losch (Lotus), Charley Grapewin (Old Father), Jessie Ralph (Cuckoo), Soo Yong (Aunt), Keye Luke (Elder Son), Roland Lui (Younger Son).
BW-139m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Mary Anne Melear

The Good Earth  - The Good Earth

The Good Earth - The Good Earth

Based on Pearl S. Buck's 1931 novel, The Good Earth (1937) was the first of the author's works to be adapted for the screen. Buck, renowned for her depiction of Asian history and culture, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, which remained on the bestseller list for two years. The overwhelming success of the book drew the attention of Irving Thalberg, famed production head at MGM, who saw an opportunity to make a truly epic film. Reportedly, Thalberg had a difficult time convincing Louis B. Mayer of the movie's potential, however. During the initial discussion of the project, Mayer was quoted as asking, "Who wants to see a picture about Chinese farmers?" It was Thalberg who convinced Mayer of the book's merits, describing the awesome struggles overcome by a husband and wife who draw both triumph and despair from the land that they love. He persuaded Mayer of the film's potential and successfully embarked on a massive production to portray the seemingly insurmountable obstacles faced by a family in a small province of China. Through his vision, persistence and no small amount of money, Thalberg was able to produce an amazing facsimile of the grueling hardships faced by the simple farming family, including famine, revolution and swarms of locusts. The film's budget was $2.8 million, a small fortune at the time, and took three years to make. Although Pearl Buck intended the film to be cast with all Chinese or Chinese American actors, the studio opted to use established American stars, tapping Paul Muni and Luis Rainier for the lead roles. Both had won Oscars® the previous year; Rainier for her role in The Great Ziegfield and Muni for the lead in The Story of Louis Pasteur. When questioned about his choice of the American actors, Thalberg responded by saying, "I'm in the business of creating illusions." To foster this illusion, both Rainier and Muni visited San Francisco's Chinatown to observe the customs of the people there. When altering his physical appearance, Paul Muni avoided the obvious; he did not assume the "slanted-eyed look". Instead he employed more subtle techniques, shaving off half of his eyebrows and part of his scalp hair and losing a substantial amount of weight. The most notable shift in the actor is in the way that he moves. He seems to change his entire persona, capturing even the most subtle nuances to transform himself into a rural Chinese peasant. As for Luis Ranier, her part involved fewer lines than most of the other characters but relies more heavily on the use of expressions and movement. At the time, Rainier was somewhat of a nonconformist in Hollywood, often appearing in public without makeup and wearing slacks as opposed to the requisite dress and heels. She was very critical of the film industry and quite vocal about her beliefs, stating that she was, above all, a stage actress and not interested in celebrity for its own sake. When she was nominated for an Academy Award® as Best Actress for her role in this movie, she insulted Academy members by stating that she would not attend the ceremonies, unless she was guaranteed an award. When Louis B. Mayer heard Rainier was staying home the night of the ceremony he was furious. He sent officials from the studio to Rainier's home where she was found wearing pajamas and curlers in her hair. She was instructed to dress immediately and then taken to the Awards dinner. The actress did win the Oscar® and accepted the award appearing only slightly disheveled. The Good Earth was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Best Direction (Sidney Franklin), Best Cinematography (Karl Freund), and Best Film Editing (Basil Wrangell). In addition to the Best Actress award, the film won for Best Cinematography. Irving Thalberg died in 1936, just months before filming of The Good Earth was complete, never able to see his vision fully realized. Although he never credited himself on any picture, saying "credit you give yourself is not worth having," Louis B. Mayer made the following dedication at the beginning of the movie: "To the memory of Irving Grant Thalberg. We dedicate this picture, his last great achievement." It was this same year that the Academy initiated the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. The award is given to recognize "the most consistent high level of production achievement for an individual producer" and continues to be a coveted honor today. Producer: Irving Thalberg, Albert Lewin Director: Victor Fleming (uncredited), Sidney Franklin, Gustav Machaty (uncredited) Screenplay: Pearl S. Buck (novel), Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, Claudine West Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Cinematography: Karl Freund Film Editing: Basil Wrangell Original Music: Herbert Stothart Principal Cast: Paul Muni (Wang), Luise Rainer (O-Lan), Walter Connolly (Uncle), Tilly Losch (Lotus), Charley Grapewin (Old Father), Jessie Ralph (Cuckoo), Soo Yong (Aunt), Keye Luke (Elder Son), Roland Lui (Younger Son). BW-139m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video. by Mary Anne Melear

The Good Earth on DVD


Pearl S. Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Good Earth received the royal MGM treatment when wunderkind Irving Thalberg undertook to bring the literary lion to the screen. Unfortunately it would be his last project. Thalberg, who had been devoted to bringing literary works to the screen, would unfortunately die during the production, and the film would be dedicated to him.

Luise Rainer copped her second consecutive Best Actress Oscar® for her emotionally complex portrayal of O-Lan, the kitchen slave who enters into an arranged marriage with peasant farmer Wang Lung (Paul Muni, whose performance is equally good). Though basically a humble man taking pleasure in the small things in life, Wang is also ambitious and wants nothing more than to expand his plot of land. His opportunity comes when the financially strapped "Great House" (where O-Lan had been enslaved) starts selling off parcels of land. Wang scrapes together the money to buy some of the land, and his dreams of owning and working a large farm are underway. At the same time, O-Lan announces that their family will be expanding as well, much to Wang Lung's delight.

The almost idyllic early chapters in O-Lan and Wang Lung's life together are brought to an abrupt close as they and the surrounding farmers near harvest time: literally out of the blue a plague of locusts is unleashed, devouring and destroying all of the crops for miles around. Left with the devastation that would've been a fine harvest, Wang Lung intends to press on, but a drought sets in, leaving any hope of farming in the dust. With resources quickly dwindling, Wang Lung and O-Lan decide they have no choice but to join the mass exodus headed south toward "the big city," where they intend to wait out the famine before returning to their farm. But even in the city they find no hope: a revolution has taken place, leaving a brutal military in charge, and there is no work, so Wang and family are reduced to joining hundreds of others begging in the streets.

It is during this lowest point in their lives together that fate intervenes in a most unexpected way: O-Lan is passing through the remains of a rich man's house, which others are in the process of looting. A bag of jewels almost literally falls in her lap, and while she is deciding what to do with them, she finds herself being rounded up with the looters who the military intend to put to death on the spot. She is freed by a fluke, and manages to get away with the jewels, which she brings to Wang Lung. From this moment their fortunes dramatically change.

Wang returns his family to their farm, where he uses the new-found wealth to purchase the Great House and all of its remaining surrounding land. He quickly builds the farm-empire that he always dreamed about, driving it to a thriving, successful farm. Unfortunately, in the process Wang becomes more intractable, unwilling to listen to anyone, and hard-hearted. His treatment of O-Lan is particularly brutal: after years of standing by his side through the worst that life has to offer, Wang Lung humiliates her by moving his mistress into their very house. The protests of his eldest sons go unheeded, and his actions threaten to tear the family apart.

It isn't until Wang's empire and the surrounding farms are once again threatened by a plague of locusts that Wang is humbled as he is forced to turn to his family and neighbors for help.

The Good Earth is a sweeping epic whose one fault is over-length. In the film's first third, director Sidney Franklin provides a wealth of small, keenly realized moments that provide insight into the characters, their desires, and their growing affections. Through the rest of the film Franklin proves himself equally adept at painting on a much broader canvass, as the film turns to the enormity of nature's fury and the resulting human tragedy. Cinematographer Karl Freund deservedly won an Oscar® for his gorgeous photography, which makes fields of grain look almost majestic, and a simple darkness in the sky terrifying.

But the real heart of the film is in the performances of the two leads. Muni's portrayal of Wang Lung is so finely tuned that he manages to balance Wang's character enough to make his darker moments palatable, while Rainer, with her doleful eyes and slight cringe as if she expects to be beaten at any moment, successfully gives O-Lan backbone in some surprisingly revealing scenes. Particularly memorable is the scene in which Wang suggests taking their new son to the Great House kitchen, where he can be admired by the slaves, and O-Lan reveals that her dream is to return to the house through the great hall in triumph. It's a moment that truly humanizes O-Lan and rounds out her character. Together, Muni and Rainer hold their own against the film's huge, startling images, in the end turning The Good Earth into an emotionally satisfying experience.

The new DVD from Warner offers a very good transfer (though the source is naturally showing some signs of deterioration. The disc includes the vintage musical short Hollywood Party, the film's theatrical trailer, and the newsreel "Supreme Court of Film Picks the Champion.

For more information about The Good Earth, visit Warner Video. To order The Good Earth, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter

The Good Earth on DVD

Pearl S. Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Good Earth received the royal MGM treatment when wunderkind Irving Thalberg undertook to bring the literary lion to the screen. Unfortunately it would be his last project. Thalberg, who had been devoted to bringing literary works to the screen, would unfortunately die during the production, and the film would be dedicated to him. Luise Rainer copped her second consecutive Best Actress Oscar® for her emotionally complex portrayal of O-Lan, the kitchen slave who enters into an arranged marriage with peasant farmer Wang Lung (Paul Muni, whose performance is equally good). Though basically a humble man taking pleasure in the small things in life, Wang is also ambitious and wants nothing more than to expand his plot of land. His opportunity comes when the financially strapped "Great House" (where O-Lan had been enslaved) starts selling off parcels of land. Wang scrapes together the money to buy some of the land, and his dreams of owning and working a large farm are underway. At the same time, O-Lan announces that their family will be expanding as well, much to Wang Lung's delight. The almost idyllic early chapters in O-Lan and Wang Lung's life together are brought to an abrupt close as they and the surrounding farmers near harvest time: literally out of the blue a plague of locusts is unleashed, devouring and destroying all of the crops for miles around. Left with the devastation that would've been a fine harvest, Wang Lung intends to press on, but a drought sets in, leaving any hope of farming in the dust. With resources quickly dwindling, Wang Lung and O-Lan decide they have no choice but to join the mass exodus headed south toward "the big city," where they intend to wait out the famine before returning to their farm. But even in the city they find no hope: a revolution has taken place, leaving a brutal military in charge, and there is no work, so Wang and family are reduced to joining hundreds of others begging in the streets. It is during this lowest point in their lives together that fate intervenes in a most unexpected way: O-Lan is passing through the remains of a rich man's house, which others are in the process of looting. A bag of jewels almost literally falls in her lap, and while she is deciding what to do with them, she finds herself being rounded up with the looters who the military intend to put to death on the spot. She is freed by a fluke, and manages to get away with the jewels, which she brings to Wang Lung. From this moment their fortunes dramatically change. Wang returns his family to their farm, where he uses the new-found wealth to purchase the Great House and all of its remaining surrounding land. He quickly builds the farm-empire that he always dreamed about, driving it to a thriving, successful farm. Unfortunately, in the process Wang becomes more intractable, unwilling to listen to anyone, and hard-hearted. His treatment of O-Lan is particularly brutal: after years of standing by his side through the worst that life has to offer, Wang Lung humiliates her by moving his mistress into their very house. The protests of his eldest sons go unheeded, and his actions threaten to tear the family apart. It isn't until Wang's empire and the surrounding farms are once again threatened by a plague of locusts that Wang is humbled as he is forced to turn to his family and neighbors for help. The Good Earth is a sweeping epic whose one fault is over-length. In the film's first third, director Sidney Franklin provides a wealth of small, keenly realized moments that provide insight into the characters, their desires, and their growing affections. Through the rest of the film Franklin proves himself equally adept at painting on a much broader canvass, as the film turns to the enormity of nature's fury and the resulting human tragedy. Cinematographer Karl Freund deservedly won an Oscar® for his gorgeous photography, which makes fields of grain look almost majestic, and a simple darkness in the sky terrifying. But the real heart of the film is in the performances of the two leads. Muni's portrayal of Wang Lung is so finely tuned that he manages to balance Wang's character enough to make his darker moments palatable, while Rainer, with her doleful eyes and slight cringe as if she expects to be beaten at any moment, successfully gives O-Lan backbone in some surprisingly revealing scenes. Particularly memorable is the scene in which Wang suggests taking their new son to the Great House kitchen, where he can be admired by the slaves, and O-Lan reveals that her dream is to return to the house through the great hall in triumph. It's a moment that truly humanizes O-Lan and rounds out her character. Together, Muni and Rainer hold their own against the film's huge, startling images, in the end turning The Good Earth into an emotionally satisfying experience. The new DVD from Warner offers a very good transfer (though the source is naturally showing some signs of deterioration. The disc includes the vintage musical short Hollywood Party, the film's theatrical trailer, and the newsreel "Supreme Court of Film Picks the Champion. For more information about The Good Earth, visit Warner Video. To order The Good Earth, go to TCM Shopping. by Fred Hunter

Quotes

Trivia

The first time that Irving Thalberg's name appeared onscreen. The movie was dedicated to him "as his last great achievement."

Irving Thalberg envisioned casting only Chinese actors for the movie, but gave up the idea because there were not enough suitable Chinese actors.

Because the Sino-Japanese war was in progress, the Chinese government threatened not to approve the movie if any Japanese actors were cast in any role.

The play by Owen Davis and Donald Davis, based on Pearl S. Buck's novel, opened in New York on 18 October 1933 with Claude Rains and Nazimova as the leads.

'Stewart, James' , who worked as a contract player in the 30's, almost got the part of a "Chinaman.

Notes

The following onscreen dedication appears before the opening title: "To the memory of Irving Grant Thalberg we dedicate this picture-His last great achievement." Thalberg died on September 13, 1936 at the age of thirty-seven, a few weeks after principal photography was completed on The Good Earth. Although Thalberg became the head of production at M-G-M in 1924 and had personally supervised many of the studio's films, this was the first on which his name appeared. Many modern sources state that The Good Earth was the only film on which his name appears, but the 1939 M-G-M British film Goodbye, Mr. Chips also includes his name in a dedication.
       After the opening credits and dedication, the following written prologue appears: "The soul of a great nation is expressed in the life of its humblest people. In this simple story of a Chinese farmer May be found something of the soul of China-its humility, its courage, its deep heritage from the past and its vast promise for the future." The following information about the production has been derived from The Good Earth story files in the M-G-M Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, contemporary news items, the pressbook and reviews: In October 1931, M-G-M executives, who had an option on Pearl Buck's best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, were offering a reported $75,000 for the screen rights but were having difficulty in finalizing the deal because Buck was traveling in China. On November 2, 1931, a Hollywood Reporter news item indicated that M-G-M's option was "running out" and Paramount was considering picking it up and producing a "synchronized silent" version in China, with an all-Chinese cast. By May 1932, M-G-M had secured the rights to the novel, and in mid-November 1932, M-G-M personnel arrived in China to film backgrounds and test Chinese actors. Several news items in trade publications and memos in the story files indicate that Thalberg originally intended to cast the picture exclusively with Chinese actors and had plans to shoot it in China.
       Plans to film the entire production in China were apparently dropped at some point in 1933, but "authentic backgrounds" were shot there, and tests of Chinese actors continued throughout most of 1933 and early 1934. Letters in the story files to M-G-M executives from Buck, who was hired as a technical consultant on the project, discuss the best locations and time of year to film. Additional correspondence and memos between late 1932 and mid-1934 mention several M-G-M representatives in China, including Mrs. Bessie A. Ochs, an American who had lived there from childhood. Ochs regularly sent reports to the studio about the progress of pre-production. George Hill, who was initially set to direct the picture, went to China in 1933 to supervize location shooting and review screen tests. Film Daily and Hollywood Reporter news items on January 31, 1934 noted that the Nanking-based government officially denied M-G-M permission to film The Good Earth in China, and asked the unit still working to leave the country on the grounds that Buck's novel was "prejudicial to the dignity of the Chinese race." This order was later rescinded when M-G-M apparently reached an agreement with Nanking not to emphasize certain aspects of the book that the government felt were objectionable, and hired General Ting-Hsiu (Theodore) Tu as the "official" consultant on the film. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item in June 1934, some of the backgrounds and exteriors shot in China in 1932 and 1933 were included in the 1934 M-G-M film The Painted Veil (see below), as well the The Good Earth. In addition to tests and backgrounds, M-G-M personnel sent to China purchased large amounts of furniture and accessories that were used in the film.
       M-G-M had purchased the rights to the story more than a year prior to the Theatre Guild's Broadway production of Owen Davis and Donald Davis' play, which starred Claude Rains and Nazimova. Both the novel and the play are credited onscreen as sources for the film, however, and Hollywood Reporter reported that M-G-M paid $125,000 to the Theatre Guild for the rights, plus a proposed $11,500 more for each additional week in the Broadway run beyond six weeks (the play ran for fifty-six performances). The first continuity in the story file is dated November 16, 1933, and was submitted by prominent M-G-M contract writer Frances Marion, director Hill's wife. A November 20, 1933 partial script by Marion included dialogue for screen tests that were to be made in China. A December 11, 1933 notation in the file notes that tests had already been made, but does not indicate whether or not the tests were based on Marion's script.
       Following Hill's death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound on August 9, 1934, and Marion's serious injuries in an auto accident in mid-November 1934, she left the project. Her last dated treatment in the story files is November 8, 1934. Claudine West, Jules Furthman and DuBose Heyward had already worked on treatments and scripts prior to Marion's departure, and continued to do so. Other writers who came onto the project between late 1934 and 1936 included Marc Connolly, Tess Slesinger, Talbot Jennings, Franz Schutz and Marion Ainslee. In addition to these writers, Felix E. Feist wrote some test scenes.
       Numerous memoranda within the story files indicate that the filmmakers were concerned with the negative effect that certain aspects of the novel might have in regard to China and the Chinese people. A memo dated August 26, 1936, delineates changes "made from the original in order to make the picture a completely sympathetic portrait of China." These included changing the novel's "bitter, ironic and futile tone"; writing a more positive ending; removing any references to "red beards," bandits or bad soldiers; deleting sexual situations; making the character "Lotus" an entertainer rather than a prostitute; playing down the love triangle of Lotus, Wang and Elder Son; eliminating the concubine of Wang in his old age; and creating a family group "with love and respect for loved ones." When The Good Earth was ready to be released, M-G-M planned to give onscreen credit solely to Claudine West and Talbot Jennings, but Tess Slesinger and Jules Furthman protested to the Writers Adjustment Committe of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, necessitating a review of all of the scripts and treatments submitted to the studio for the project.
       A copy of the final script contained in the story files reveals extensive markings by different color pencils indicating which of the writers was the first to use each line of dialogue or situation, from Frances Marion's first script on. The final tally on contributions indicated that Jennings, Slesinger and West had contributed the greatest number of lines to the final script, and were to be credited onscreen, in that order. Connolly and Furthman received SAB credit for contributions to the dialogue, and Marion received SAB credit for contributions to screenplay construction. Schutz, Hayward and Ainslee did not receive SAB credit because the committee, composed of Patterson McNutt, Bradley King and Walter DeLeon, determined that while the latter writers had made some contributions, their respective contributions comprised less than 10% of the final screenplay. Additional information in the story files reveal that West was responsible for the "locust" sequence of the film, and that Peter Ballbush, Charles Trego and Slavko Vorkapich wrote the outline for the montage sequences used in the completed film.
       Technical advisors hired from 1932 through 1936 include James Min "Jimmy" Lee, a Chinese USC student whom many memos in the file indicate contributed significant advice on the film. In China, and later California, General Tu continued to act as a technical advisor, as did a Dr. Y. S. Tsao. Though Tu is acknowledged in the pressbook and other contemporary sources as the most significant technical advisor on the film, documentation within the story file indicates that the production staff often felt that Tu's "advice" was interference rather than help, while Tsao and Lee contributed positively and significantly to the picture. A number of other technical advisors, as noted in the offscreen credits listed above, assisted in various aspects of Chinese culture, language and casting. Shortly after the August 1934 death of George Hill, W. S. Van Dyke was considered as his replacement. Later, Victor Fleming was announced as the film's new director. Van Dyke was again considered for the direction in 1936, but M-G-M executives decided to keep Van Dyke on their San Francisco project and turned The Good Earth over to Sidney Franklin. In addition to Franklin, who is the only director credited onscreen, Fleming directed some scenes, but apparently none after June 1936 when he suffered a serious relapse following a kidney operation. Czech-born director Gustav Machaty directed some process shots and Fred Niblo directed the second unit work.
       Throughout the pre-production phase of the project, an extensive search for a suitable cast was made. News items and company records indicate that crews headed by George Hill, production manager Frank Messenger, and cameramen Charles Clarke and Russell Cully, among others, made a large number of tests in China while studio units tested Chinese-American actors in Culver City. A news item in Hollywood Reporter on November 30, 1935 stated that plans for an all-Chinese cast had been given up by Irving Thalberg because there were "not enough suitable Chinese actors."
       Tests had already been made as early as 1933 of non-Asian actors, though, and names such as stage actress Kathleen Cornell, who was considered for the role of O-Lan, and Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther, who had been considered for the leading roles in January 1935, appeared on studio test sheets and in news items throughout the early pre-production phase of the picture. All through the casting process Chinese and Chinese-American actors were tested for various lead roles, often on the same days that caucasian actors were tested for the roles.
       Charles Boyer was at one time considered for the role of "Wang." When Paul Muni was chosen, he was loaned to M-G-M by Warner Bros. in exhange for Robert Montomgery's services. Montgomery made the 1937 Warner Bros. film Ever Since Eve in fulfillment of M-G-M's part of the agreement. The most prominent Chinese American in contention for any role in the film was Anna May Wong, who was mentioned throughout 1935 as a strong possibility for "Lotus." Other Asian actresses seriously considered for the role were Lotus Lui, Sidney Fox and Mamo Clark. Non-Asian actresses tested for the role included Jean Parker, Steffi Duna, Dorothy Appleby and Suzanne Kaaren. A Daily Variety news item in December 1935 indicated that "various censorship angles" were causing problems if "anything approaching miscegenation" occured in the casting, indicating that if an Asian actress such as Anna May Wong portrayed "Lotus," the man cast opposite her must also be Asian. In addition, a news items in Daily Variety on July 13, 1936 stated that the Chinese government had threatened not to approve the film if any actors of Japanese descent were cast. The Sino-Japanese Conflict, which began in 1931 had escalated and by 1936, when shooting began, the Japanese were occupying large sections of China. The 13 July news item also noted that because of China's threats, several Japanese American actresses who were tested for the role of "Lotus" were therefore rejected by M-G-M. No specific names were located in available screen test records to indicate that any actresses tested for the role were Japanese, however.
       For the role of "Elder Son," Asian actors Richard Loo, Mala, Philson Ahn and Philip Ahn were tested, as were caucasian actors Eddie Quillan and George Wolcott. According to notations in the story file, studio executives were very impressed with Philip Ahn's acting abilities, on several occasions calling him an "excellent actor," but considered him too "serious" for the role. Associate producer Albert Lewin noted in a memo that actor Keye Luke "deserves consideration-a slight possibility," but added that he "has become stereotyped for playing in Charlie Chan pictures." Despite Lewin's comments, Luke portrayed "Elder Son" in the film.
       Among the actresses tested or considered for "Cuckoo" were Marjorie Gateson, Blanche Yurka and Rafaello Ottiano. Considered for the role of "Uncle" were Hal K. Dawson, George Barbier and J. Carrol Naish. For the role of "Old Mistress," which was not in the final film, the studio strongly considered either Pauline Frederick or Mrs. Leslie Carter, both noted stage actresses. Other actors tested for various roles included Willie Fung, a well-known character actor who frequently appeared in M-G-M productions, Sam "Sammy" Tong, Edward McWade and Leonid Kinsky. Many of the Chinese actors tested for major roles eventually worked on the film as extras or appeared in minor speaking roles. Of the fifteen actors credited onscreen, only seven are Asian, although the majority of the minor actors and extras were Asian, primarily Chinese-American actors. News items and the pressbook state that the number of Asian extras needed for the film was so large that scouts were sent to various cities on the West Coast that had large Chinese populations. The extent of such "scouting" May have been exaggerated, as were such publicity stories as impromptu "strikes" by Chinese extras who were not provided with traditional Chinese food for their lunches.
       Most of the film was shot on location in the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles, not far from the intersection of Devonshire and Reseda Blvds., at the foothills of the San Fernando Valley. A large location site was constructed for the film to create the various exteriors at which much of the dramatic action takes place. According to the film's program and feature articles in contemporary magazines, the foothills were terraced in the manner of Chinese farms and planted with authentic crops which needed special care due to the length of the shoot. Hundreds of buildings were also constructed to create the villages and cities described in Buck's novel. Many years after filming took place the location, which was called "Wang's Village," became a housing development. In addition to the exteriors shot in China and the Chatsworth location, some backgrounds for the locust sequence were shot in Cedar City, Utah during an actual infestation.
       According to memos in the story files, the locust sequence was shot in June 1936 by Niblo. Then, noted special effects men James Havens and James Basevi combined process shots and photographic effects with Niblo's shots of the actors "fighting off" the invading locusts. A December 1937 New York Times article on Basevi suggested that the density of the locusts on the ground was an effect created by combining actual dead locusts with old coffee grounds. A story file notation at this time states that Basevi was "doubling in locusts" with footage from Chatsworth and Utah, but does not indicate what was used.
       The Good Earth was originally released in a sepia print, tinted and toned in a process that M-G-M revived in the late 1930s before the studio started to produce Technicolor pictures. A New York Times article noted that The Good Earth was the first important film to utilize the process for many years. John M. Nicholaus, head of M-G-M's laboratory supervised the operations. To enhance the "Chinese" look of caucasian actors, make-up man Jack Dawn created special facial inlays for cheeks, noses and teeth that were worn by the principals throughout the lengthy shooting schedule.
       The film's premiere took place in Los Angeles at the Carthay Circle Theatre on January 29, 1937, followed by a New York premiere at the Astor Theatre on 2 Feb. News items reported extensive preparations for both premieres, especially in Los Angeles where art director associate Harry Oliver supervised the decoration of San Vicente Blvd. (the street on which the Carthay Circle Theatre was located) in a Chinese style. A fifty-foot replica of the novel was also constructed on a corner of the intersection of Wilshire and San Vicente Blvd. near the theater. Prominent writers P. G. Wodehouse, Rupert Hughes and Jim Tully were present at the premiere to write impromptu reviews and immediately send them across the nation via wire service. The premiere was broadcast over radio via the Mutual System and, according to a January 29, 1937 Hollywood Reporter news item, was the first premiere to be covered on a national network.
       The film was named one of the Top Ten films of the year by Film Daily Year Book, The National Board of Review and New York Times. Luise Rainer won an the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as "O-Lan," earning her the second of two consecutive awards in that category, and marking the first time that consecutive awards were won by the same person in any acting category. The previous award had been for The Great Ziegfeld (see below). Karl Freund also won an Oscar, for Best Cinematography. Sidney Franklin was nominated for Best Director, but lost to Leo McCarey for The Awful Truth and the film lost the Best Picture award to Warner Bros.' The Life of Emile Zola ( and below). The 1937 awards also marked the first time that the special Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award was presented to an outstanding producer. Darryl Zanuck of Twentieth Century-Fox was the first recipient. In 1938, Pearl Buck won the Nobel Prize for her works on the Chinese people, including The Good Earth. Although Variety listed the picture as one of the top-twenty money-makers of 1937, M-G-M records specify that while the picture grossed $3,557,000 in domestic and foreign markets, the total negative cost of the production was $2,816,000 and resulted in a $496,000 loss for the company. In 1944 M-G-M filmed another Buck novel about China, Dragonseed, directed by Jack Conway and Harold S. Bucquet, and starring Katharine Hepburn and Walter Huston. Dragonseed, which was set during the Sino-Japanese conflict, has frequently been called a sequel to The Good Earth, but the characters are unrelated.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1937

Fleming took over direction after the original director George Hill committed suicide. He became ill, and was replaced eventually by Sidney Franklin. Machaty directed the locust attack scene.

Released in United States 1937