Take 3: The Sea of Grass Review

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!

The Sea of Grass poster created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Loew’s Inc.

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.

The Third Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon created by Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

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.

Small, western town image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

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!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: I Never Sang for My Father Review (A Month Without the Code — #2)

So, I was, originally, not going to participate in the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. This is because I already signed up for three other blogathons that are scheduled for August. But, when I discovered that there would be prizes involved, I was in it to win it! Since I’m also a participant in Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s A Month Without the Code Blogathon, I will be incorporating the films I review for the Summer Under the Stars blogathon into my roster for the aforementioned blogathon. That way, I can help the Brannan sisters promote their message and try my best to win Kristen and Samantha’s blogathon! When I was looking through Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM’s) roster of films, I came across the movie, I Never Sang for My Father. It’s one that I had heard of, but had never seen. Before seeing this film, I was not familiar with who Melvyn Douglas was as an actor. So, I did some research on TCM’s website. The first thing I noticed was that he was a Broadway actor prior to appearing in films. This made me wonder if any of his on-stage talents were carried over to the screen. Keep reading my review of 1970’s I Never Sang for My Father in order to find out!

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I was going to use this film’s poster from Wikipedia, but I decided to take a screenshot of this poster instead. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Things I liked about the film:

The acting: As I’ve said in the introduction, I was not familiar with Melvyn Douglas before watching I Never Sang for My Father. This means that this is the first time I have ever seen him act. Despite this, I was very impressed with his performance in this film! His portrayal of Tom Garrison contained so much depth and emotion, that it was captivating to watch. He definitely stole the show in this movie! The other actors and actresses in I Never Sang for My Father brought a sense of realism to their performance, just like Melvyn did. One of them is Estelle Parsons, who portrays Gene’s sister, Alice. Whether it was the look in her eyes or the inflection of her voice, she always expressed her character’s concern and care with believability. Even though she wasn’t on screen for very long, she made a memorable impression with her performance!

 

Dynamics between the characters: Because every actor portrayed their characters with such realism, the interactions and dynamics between the characters were interesting to watch. Every time these characters communicated or spent time with each other, I always wondered what was about to happen next. That’s because it reflected how conversations, sometimes, work in real life. When it comes to interacting with someone, we can’t always predict how things will turn out. This was captured well in the film through the dynamics of the characters!

 

The messages and themes: Within this film, there were several messages and themes that are just as relevant today as they were in the early ‘70s. One of them was the care and well-being of elderly relatives. After their mother dies, Gene and Alice try to decide how to take care of their father. Several options are discussed, such as a live-in nurse and a nursing home. The way these ideas were expressed came across very realistically, like the situations themselves had come directly from real life. This made the interactions between the characters that much more interesting.

Summer Under the Stars banner
Summer Under the Stars Blogathon banner created by Kristen from Journeys in Classic Film and Samantha from Musings of a Classic Film Addict. Image found at https://journeysinclassicfilm.com/2019/07/08/the-2019-tcm-summer-under-the-stars-blogathon/.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The run-time: I Never Sang for My Father has a run-time of one hour and thirty-two minutes. But the movie itself felt like it was two plus hours. This is because some scenes were drawn out longer than they needed to be. One example is when Tom Garrison reads a letter to his children. It seems like scenes like this one were as long as they were for the sake of satisfying the run-time. But it was already at a reasonable length of one hour and thirty-two minutes. Another aspect of the film that seemed to satisfy the run-time was unnecessary subplots. The part of the story about Gene’s affair really didn’t seem to lead anywhere. It made me think that the narrative would have improved if that part had been omitted.

 

Telling, but not showing: In almost any cinematic story, an effective way to persuade an audience is by verbally and visually presenting an idea. In I Never Sang for My Father, there were many cases where ideas about Tom Garrison were verbally expressed. However, there was no visual evidence to support these claims. When Gene stated that he was physically abused by his father, the behaviors and actions of Tom Garrison that were shown on-screen didn’t show him being physically abusive toward anyone. If anything, the things that were said about Tom sounded like hearsay that couldn’t always be taken seriously.

 

An over-exaggerated relationship: A significant part of this story is about the strained relationship between Tom and Gene Garrison. The film’s synopsis makes their relationship seem worse than it really is. Sure, it isn’t pleasant. But it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. Throughout the film, Tom comes across as a lonely senior citizen who just wants someone to talk to. Meanwhile, Gene is presented as, simply, annoyed by how often his father speaks. I feel this is the result of the screen-writing. Both Gene and Melvyn did the best they could with the material they were given. But, for characters and their relationships, they have to be well acted and written.

A Month Without the Code banner
A Month Without the Code Blogathon banner created by Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Image found at https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/07/31/announcing-amonthwithoutthecode65/.

My overall impression:

Like I said in the introduction, I Never Sang for My Father is a movie that I’d heard of, but had never seen. I thought that the story would be deep and thought-provoking. But, now that I have seen the movie, I, honestly, think it’s just ok. The story itself was more straight forward than I had expected. I also thought that the plot was weaker than it could have been. However, one of the better parts of the film was, definitely, the acting! Melvyn Douglas’ performance was a highlight, bringing his character to life in such a captivating way. I’m glad that I gave I Never Sang for My Father a chance, as I was able to introduce myself to new actors and films! With several changes, this movie could have been approved by the Breen Code. These changes would be the following:

 

  • At the beginning of the movie, there is a couple that can be seen kissing passionately. Either the man or woman in the relationship would need to turn their head in order to block the kiss or the kiss itself would have to be cut shorter when it comes to length of time.

 

  • There are several instances when foul or suggestive language is used by the characters. One constant example is whenever someone swears. These words would need to be rewritten, with the screen-writer choosing words that are more appropriate.

 

  • As I mentioned in my review, there is a subplot about Gene having an affair. This part of the story would either get omitted or would be rewritten to make this relationship come across in a more subtle way. Any references to sex would be removed or rewritten to be as subtle in presentation as possible.

 

Overall score: 6 out of 10

 

Have you been keeping up with Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” marathon? Which day of the marathon are you excited for? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen