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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Elia Kazan
Cast:
Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Walker, Melvyn Douglas, Phyllis Thaxter, Edgar Buchanan, Harry Carey
Writing Credits:
Conrad Richter (novel, "The Sea of Grass"), Marguerite Roberts, Vincent Lawrence

Tagline:
Big As Its Stars!

Synopsis:
The highly melodramatic western begins with St. Louis resident Katharine Hepburn marrying New Mexico cattleman Spencer Tracy after a short courtship. When she arrives in "Salt Pork, NM" she finds that her new husband is considered by the locals to be a tyrant who uses force to keep homesteaders off the government owned land he uses for grazing his cattle - the so-called Sea of Grass. Hepburn's character, Lutie, has difficulty reconciling her husband's beliefs and passions with her own, and eventually leaves him just long enough to conceive a child with her husband's moral enemy. Two years later, in the midst of a crisis, her husband discovers her infidelity and forces her to leave - without her two children (husband's daughter and other man's son).

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 4/12/2011

Bonus:
Give Us the Earth! Short
The Cat Concerto Animated Short
• Trailer


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The Sea Of Grass (1947)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2011)

For the fourth Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn cinematic pairing, we go to 1947’s The Sea of Grass. After a brief courtship, St. Louis society girl Lutie Cameron (Hepburn) marries Colonel Jim Brewton (Tracy). She moves to New Mexico to join him on his cattle ranch.

Lutie initially greets her new life with eagerness, but she soon experiences a fair amount of loneliness without close neighbors or much of a social life. She learns that the locals don’t think much of Brewton; they view him as a land-grubbing tyrant who tramples others for his own financial benefit. This leads him to care more about his precious “sea of grass” than her and causes a rift – one that sends her to an affair with another man.

As I noted when I reviewed 1942’s Keeper of the Flame, we usually expect Tracy/Hepburn films to follow a light romantic comedy vibe. That’s how they started with Woman of the Year and that attitude occurred frequently during their nine movies together.

Flame deviated from that pattern and didn’t even make Tracy and Hepburn a romantic couple. Grass indeed marries them, but it’s tough to see much romance between the pair here. The movie posits them as a couple who should’ve displayed real chemistry, but none appears – surprisingly so, given their real-life relationship. We don’t get much of a connection between the two; that’s practical on Jim’s end, as he should seem more interested in the land than Lutie, but she needs to have more passion for her husband.

Given their supreme talents, I hate to say this, but I think Tracy and Hepburn are miscast here. He’s not right for such a cold role, and she seems too old to play a debutante sort such as Lutie; would a society “girl” still have been single at 40? Granted, the movie doesn’t tell us Lutie’s age, but Hepburn hit 40 in 1947, so she even if we accept the role as 5 to 10 years younger than that, she still seems long in the tooth for a character such as this.

Hepburn gets the juicier role, as Lutie boasts all of the emotional development between the pair. Jim is cold and distant at the start, and that’s where he stays, which begs the question: how did he win over Lutie via their whirlwind romance? Shouldn’t he demonstrate some charisma? Lutie doesn’t present as someone desperate for a man, so we should see some magnetism from Jim, but we don’t; he’s just a lump.

Perhaps because Tracy comes across as so one-dimensional, Hepburn works overtime to provide emotion. I won’t say she overacts, because she doesn’t; even with the character’s melodramatic excesses, Hepburn keeps on the right side of that line. But just barely, as she nearly veers into in over the top turn. I can’t blame her; the movie saddles her with so many soap opera moments that it becomes tough to avoid the over-emotional side of the street.

Hepburn tries to induce some feeling here, but she can’t bring out much of a story. Grass really does feel like a collection of soap opera elements than an actual plot. If it fleshed out its characters to a better degree, we wouldn’t mind the threadbare narrative, but since they lack depth, we notice the aimlessness more.

Despite all these flaws, I couldn’t call Grass a genuinely bad film. However, it doesn’t present many clear positives; even the potential for lovely nature shots goes bye-bye since most of the shoot took place on unconvincing stages. Grass tends to plod across its 123 minutes.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C/ Bonus D

The Sea of Grass appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD. Though I’ve seen many better transfers for old films, this one was always perfectly acceptable and often good.

As usual, source flaws created the majority of the problems here. Throughout the movie, I noticed examples of specks, marks and blemishes. However, these weren’t major; though consistent, they remained fairly light, so they didn’t dominate the screen.

Sharpness varied but was usually quite nice for a standard-def DVD. Although some wider shots tended to be a little fuzzy, overall definition was very good; the majority of the movie displayed solid delineation. No issues with jaggies or moiré effects occurred; I noticed no edge haloes and only minor digital artifacts.

The black and white photography looked nice. Dark tones were deep and rich, and the image exhibited good contrast. Shadows lacked concerns, as they boasted fine clarity. Between the occasional softness and the print defects, I thought this was a “C+”, but it was a high “C+” that came close to “B” level.

As was the case with Keeper of the Flame, the monaural audio of Grass loses some points due to its mastering level. The volume was much lower than normal; I needed to crank my receiver to a substantially higher than typical level and the track still lacked much punch. Maybe it would’ve been fairly flat even with a higher mastering level, but I thought the super-low volume robbed it of some impact.

Otherwise, the audio seemed perfectly adequate for its age. Speech was a bit thin and reedy, but the lines lacked edginess and were always easily intelligible. The music tended to be somewhat dull and didn’t have much range. Effects were clear enough but not particularly memorable; though without distortion, they didn’t present a lot of punch. I noticed no issues with noise during the movie. I thought the audio was good enough for a “C” but no better.

Only a few minor extras appear here. In addition to the film’s trailer, we get two period shorts. Give Us the Earth! (21:11) offers a documentary look at efforts to teach poor Mexicans how to better work their land, while The Cat Concerto (7:29) delivers a Tom and Jerry romp. Earth merits attention as a historical curiosity at best – it’s not very interesting – but Concerto has some decent comedy.

With Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Elia Kazan in prime positions, The Sea of Grass comes packed with legendary talent. Alas, the film squanders them; while it’s not a poor film, it’s never better than mediocre and it’s generally forgettable. The DVD comes with fairly good picture, passable audio and a small set of supplements. Leave this slow melodrama for Tracy/Hepburn diehards.

Note that you can purchase The Sea of Grass on its own or as part of a nine-film set called “Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection”. This includes all of the pair’s movies together as well as a bonus disc entitled “The Spencer Tracy Legacy”. Since the entire package retails for less than $60, it’s a steal for Tracy/Hepburn fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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11:
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