The Sea of Grass (1947)

122-23 mins | Western | 25 April 1947

Director:

Elia Kazan

Producer:

Pandro S. Berman

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling

Editor:

Robert J. Kern

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The following written prologue appears after the onscreen credits: "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." An Apr 1946 NYT article notes that M-G-M bought the film rights to Conrad Richter's novel in 1937. According to NYT , the film was first placed on M-G-M's production schedule in 1938, and was later shelved following several "screenplay difficulties." When the project was revived in 1946, the studio designated a starting budget of $2,500,000 and, at one point, considered starring Van Heflin in the role played by Robert Walker. The NYT article also notes that 40,000 feet of background footage was shot in Nebraska in Jun 1945, in advance of principal photography.
       Most of director Elia Kazan's early films were made at Twentieth Century-Fox, and The Sea of Grass was the only film he made at M-G-M. A Jun 1946 HR news item notes that Richard Rosson, who directed the company's second unit, worked on location in Gallup, NM. The film marked actor Melvyn Douglas' first picture since completing his World War II military service. A Mar 1946 HR news item listed Beverly Tyler and Tom Drake in the cast, but they did not appear in the final film. Tyler, according to an M-G-M News item, was set to play the part of the daughter of "Lutie Cameron." Various contemporary news items in HR list actors Ray ... More Less

The following written prologue appears after the onscreen credits: "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." An Apr 1946 NYT article notes that M-G-M bought the film rights to Conrad Richter's novel in 1937. According to NYT , the film was first placed on M-G-M's production schedule in 1938, and was later shelved following several "screenplay difficulties." When the project was revived in 1946, the studio designated a starting budget of $2,500,000 and, at one point, considered starring Van Heflin in the role played by Robert Walker. The NYT article also notes that 40,000 feet of background footage was shot in Nebraska in Jun 1945, in advance of principal photography.
       Most of director Elia Kazan's early films were made at Twentieth Century-Fox, and The Sea of Grass was the only film he made at M-G-M. A Jun 1946 HR news item notes that Richard Rosson, who directed the company's second unit, worked on location in Gallup, NM. The film marked actor Melvyn Douglas' first picture since completing his World War II military service. A Mar 1946 HR news item listed Beverly Tyler and Tom Drake in the cast, but they did not appear in the final film. Tyler, according to an M-G-M News item, was set to play the part of the daughter of "Lutie Cameron." Various contemporary news items in HR list actors Ray Weaver, Melvin Martin, Jack Perrin, James Cooley and Beth Bolden in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A replica of a New Mexico city of the 1880s was constructed on M-G-M's backlot and used for exterior shots. Additional filming of backgrounds took place at Vasquez Rocks, in Chatsworth, CA.
       Contemporary sources reveal that The Sea of Grass was one of the highest grossing films of 1947, earning in excess of $3,100,000 in its initial release. Modern sources note that Kazan criticized M-G-M's decision to film the picture primarily on the studio backlot, because of Tracy's unwillingness to work on location. According to a biography of Katharine Hepburn, all exterior scenes in the film were shot on a sound stage in front of a rear projection screen displaying stock footage of the outdoors. In a modern interview, Kazan denounced the use of rear projection, stating, "I should have quit as soon as I heard that. I'll never be a studio director." More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Dec 46
p. 446.
Box Office
15 Feb 1947.
---
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1947.
---
Film Daily
13 Feb 47
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 46
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 46
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 46
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jun 46
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 46
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 46
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 46
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jul 46
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 46
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 47
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 47
p. 4.
Independent Film Journal
8 Jun 46
p. 34.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Feb 47
p. 3473.
New York Times
2 Apr 1946.
---
New York Times
28 Feb 47
p. 27.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Glen Strange
Earl Hodgins
Larry Lathrop
Bud Fine
Whitner Bissell
Eddie Waller
Gene Stutenroth
Mike Donovan
Sid D'Albrook
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Cost des
Men's cost
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Rec dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair styles created by
Makeup created by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Sea of Grass by Conrad Richter (New York, 1937).
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 April 1947
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Lincoln, NE: 26 February 1947
Production Date:
20 May--early August 1946
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
12 December 1946
Copyright Number:
LP786
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
122-23
Length(in feet):
11,757
Country:
United States
PCA No:
11861
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

St. Louis socialite Lutie Cameron is preparing for her wedding to cattle baron Colonel Jim Brewton, when Jim summons her to his vast ranch, Big Vega, near Salt Fork, New Mexico, claiming he is too busy to make the wedding. Despite cautious advice from her father, Lutie goes to Salt Fork and finds Jim and other cattle ranchers in the midst of a legal battle against a group of homesteaders, led by lawyer Brice Chamberlain. Jim, who owns nearly a million acres of prime land, some of it illegally, wants to maintain the territory for cattle grazing, insisting the land is too harsh for farming. Because of Jim's powerful influence, the ranchers win the court battle, but Brice vows that impending government regulations will soon force changes. Lutie and Jim have a quiet, simple wedding and Jim tries to impart his love of the land to her. Although Lutie quickly wins over the ranch hands and Jim's close friend, Doc Reid, she grows lonely for companionship and befriends Selina Hall and her homesteader husband Sam. Against Jim's advice, Lutie insists the Halls be given a small number of acres on Big Vega. Eventually Lutie gives birth to a daughter, Sarah Beth, but continues to feel lonely, as much of Jim's time is taken in managing the ranch. Lutie hosts several parties at Big Vega and grows friendly with Brice. One night during a harsh winter storm, Jim's men have difficulty driving the cattle back to the ranch and several stray into Sam's small homestead. Outraged at what he considers deliberate destruction, Sam defends his land and is beaten by the ranchers. Selina, ... +


St. Louis socialite Lutie Cameron is preparing for her wedding to cattle baron Colonel Jim Brewton, when Jim summons her to his vast ranch, Big Vega, near Salt Fork, New Mexico, claiming he is too busy to make the wedding. Despite cautious advice from her father, Lutie goes to Salt Fork and finds Jim and other cattle ranchers in the midst of a legal battle against a group of homesteaders, led by lawyer Brice Chamberlain. Jim, who owns nearly a million acres of prime land, some of it illegally, wants to maintain the territory for cattle grazing, insisting the land is too harsh for farming. Because of Jim's powerful influence, the ranchers win the court battle, but Brice vows that impending government regulations will soon force changes. Lutie and Jim have a quiet, simple wedding and Jim tries to impart his love of the land to her. Although Lutie quickly wins over the ranch hands and Jim's close friend, Doc Reid, she grows lonely for companionship and befriends Selina Hall and her homesteader husband Sam. Against Jim's advice, Lutie insists the Halls be given a small number of acres on Big Vega. Eventually Lutie gives birth to a daughter, Sarah Beth, but continues to feel lonely, as much of Jim's time is taken in managing the ranch. Lutie hosts several parties at Big Vega and grows friendly with Brice. One night during a harsh winter storm, Jim's men have difficulty driving the cattle back to the ranch and several stray into Sam's small homestead. Outraged at what he considers deliberate destruction, Sam defends his land and is beaten by the ranchers. Selina, several months pregnant, loses her baby when she tries to help her husband. When Lutie rides over later to offer assistance, the Halls reject her and soon after leave Salt Fork. Lutie protests the cruelty of the situation to Jim, who explains that the Halls' departure was inevitable. Miffed at his coldness, Lutie asks permission to go away for a time and Jim agrees. In Denver, despondent and troubled, Lutie runs into Brice, who declares his love for her and asks her to leave Jim. Carried away by Brice's attentions, Lutie spends the night with him, but the next day is filled with remorse, realizing she truly loves Jim. She returns to the ranch and promises Jim she will not interfere with decisions about the land again. Lutie tries to tell her husband about Brice, but only when she gives birth to a son, Brock, and while delirious mentions Brice does Jim learn the truth. Meanwhile, Brice is appointed judge of the Salt Fork territory and grants farming rights to homesteaders on Big Vega. Jim rounds up the ranchers and prepares for a range war, and when Lutie protests in favor of the homesteaders, Jim demands she leave Big Vega, without the children. Doc makes a futile attempt to bring Brice and Jim together to call off the range war, but Jim refuses, capitulating only when the U.S. Cavalry is sent to support the homesteaders. Lutie goes to St. Louis and keeps up with the children through letters from Doc. Two years later, she returns to Salt Fork to see her children and perhaps reconcile with Jim, but realizes her visit is a mistake and, despite Brice's pleas with her to stay, returns east. Meanwhile, the Salt Fork territory undergoes a severe drought, causing most of the homesteads to fail, as Jim had predicted. On his deathbed, Doc chastises Jim for his treatment of Lutie. Guilt ridden, Jim searches for Lutie, he but cannot find her. Over the years Lutie's children grow up, and Brice now writes to her about their upbringing. He describes how Jim dotes upon the insolent but charming Brock and how Sarah Beth's absence at school has only made Brock more wild. Concerned, Lutie starts back to Salt Fork. Meanwhile, Brock becomes involved in a gunfight with a gambler who taunts him about his parentage, and after Brice gets him out on bail, confides to Sarah Beth that he feels he must protect Jim from slander. When the gambler dies, Brock, realizing a public trial would humiliate Jim, jumps bail and flees. Sarah Beth tells Jim the reason for Brock's actions and Jim goes after him, finding him fatally wounded in a cabin surrounded by deputies. Brock dies in Jim's arms just as Lutie arrives in town. Sarah Beth confronts her mother about the past, but realizes Lutie genuinely loves Jim and takes her home to the ranch. There Lutie is at last reconciled with Jim. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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