When I participated in last year’s Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, I reviewed It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World and One Christmas. The first movie was not my cup of tea, but I found the second movie to be just ok. This time around, I decided to write about one movie starring both Spencer and Katharine. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t watch films from the Western genre often. This is the reason why I chose to review The Sea of Grass. Looking back on the movies I’ve seen from Spencer and Katharine’s filmographies, this is the first time I’ve seen one of their titles where both actors were the leads. Spencer and Katharine are talented actors individually, so it was interesting to see them acting alongside one another!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: In The Sea of Grass, Katharine Hepburn portrays Lutie Cameron, a St. Louis native who moves to the country in order to marry Colonel Jim Brewton. Toward the beginning of the film, Lutie comes across as naïve, as she is a romantic at heart. As she stays in the country, Lutie gains a sense of maturity and grows as a person. Throughout her character’s journey, Katharine was able to show this transition in her acting performance by adopting a variety of emotions. The “sea of grass” this film is named after is Colonel Jim Brewton’s favorite spot. While talking about it with Lutie, Jim describes the fields like a convincing salesman. His face contains a look of longing; reflecting on the past, present, and future of his prized field of grass. The way he talks about it shows how much he cares for this patch of earth. The facial expressions and tone of voice Spencer adopts persuade the audience of this location’s importance. Spencer’s expressions and vocal inflections also reveal the cracks in Jim’s foundation as the story continues. Brice Chamberlain, a local lawyer, is portrayed by Melvyn Douglas. Whenever his character interacted with Lutie, Melvyn was able to, talent-wise, go toe-to-toe with Katharine. He delivered thought-out remarks with a serious calm that one might expect from a respected lawyer. A professional composure was also present in Melvyn’s performance. Because his on-screen personality was different from Katharine’s, it created an interesting dynamic.
The scenery: The majority of The Sea of Grass takes place in the country. Because of this, the natural landscape of this environment is shown in several scenes! When characters travel through the desert, huge mountainous rocks illustrate just how small humans are compared to the large scope of nature. Long and medium shots are used to emphasis this idea. Even the “sea of grass” is featured in a few scenes, its beauty captured well on screen! Sweeping shots showed the vast size of this field. As the wind blew, the movements of the grass looked like the rippling of water. All of these components came together to create a calming space!
Katharine’s wardrobe: Throughout the movie, Katharine showcased an impressive wardrobe that complimented her well! This is because all of her outfits were simple, but elegant. When Lutie and Jim are sharing their first dinner after their wedding, she wears a white long-sleeved dress with a small set of flowers in the front of the dress’s top. Later in the movie, Katharine wears a black-and-white, over-the shoulder dress. This outfit was paired nicely with a dainty black choker and ponytail hair-do. What’s also worth pointing out is how Katharine’s wardrobe in The Sea of Grass appeared historically accurate with the film’s time period.
What I didn’t like about the film:
More emphasis on telling: At the beginning of the movie, several people in Salt Fork inform Lutie about how awful of a person Jim is. He is, apparently, such a bad person, some compare him to a tyrant. While the audience can hear Jim say harmful things, they never get to see him do harmful actions. This creative decision gives the viewers only part of a bigger picture when it comes to Jim Brewton. Whenever the subject of people using the “sea of grass” is brought up, Jim is very specific about how the land should be used. If someone objects to these ideas, Jim tells others what he’s going to do instead of carrying out the deed.
No major conflict: Since the film is called The Sea of Grass, you’d think most of the story would revolve around the “sea of grass” itself. Instead, the film prioritizes the personal events of the characters. Stories that are character driven can work. But when you have an interesting conflict like how to utilize a field of grass, the character’s stories don’t seem as interesting. While the triumphs and tragedies of Lutie and company are highlighted, the “sea of grass” is relegated to a subplot.
Times moves too fast: In a movie where time progresses, there is usually some indicator that a jump in time has occurred. This is done through on-screen text or a voice-over. The Sea of Grass, unfortunately, doesn’t utilize any techniques to inform their audience that time has moved forward, causing changes to appear abruptly. A perfect example are the lives of Sara Beth and Brock. In one scene, Sara Beth is shown as a little girl, while Brock is a toddler. The very next scene shows Sara Beth and Brock as older children, appearing to be ten and eight.
My overall impression:
When I chose to review The Sea of Grass, I wanted to expand my Western genre horizons. This decision taught me that Western tragedies do exist. Despite seeing a handful of Westerns, the movie was quite different from other films I’ve seen in this genre. Even though I knew that this movie was about a rocky relationship, it was sadder than I expected. The Sea of Grass is a fine film with strong components, like the acting and scenery. However, it does have its flaws that shouldn’t be ignored. While the “sea of grass” is shown on screen, it isn’t as significant as the title would suggest. In fact, this location feels more like a glorified backdrop. I will say that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy do work well together as actors. As the years go by, I would like to see more of their films where they both star as the leads.
Overall score: 7.3 out of 10
Do you like watching Western films? Are there any Westerns you’d like to see me review? Let me know in the comment section below!
Have fun at the movies!