Shockingly, surprisingly, stars Paul Muni and Luise Rainer pull it off. He's Wang Lung, a simple Chinese farmer. She's O-Lan, his even more simple wife. This adaptation of the Pearl Buck novel has the pair surviving through an epic struggle against poverty and nature, building their farm up from nothing (with O-Lan helping to bring in the harvest the night before she gives birth), then losing everything, slumming on the streets of the city, finding a cache of jewels during a riot, building it all up again, and facing a family crisis when Wang Lung decides to buy a second, younger wife. Hey, it's old world China. In the end, our heroes have to do battle against a plague of locusts. Locusts!
Of course, in 1937 this was epic filmmaking, and in 2006 it still hangs together surprisingly well. Sure, there's some jingoism and datedness to the tale, but The Good Earth is really more of a time capsule than a great piece of filmmaking. Muni and Rainer (who won one of her back to back Oscars for this role) are shockingly apt in their roles, and even minor characters (many of whom are also played by Anglos) are spot on recreations of their Chinese alter-egos.
Director Sidney Franklin's work here has nothing we haven't seen before, but it's good for its era. The script is more impressive, as are some of the set pieces -- most notably a riot scene that occurs during the down and out years for Wang and O-Lan. But this is Muni and Rainer's show, as they prove in scene after scene that, seriously, they don't make 'em like this any more.
Run time: 138 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th August 1937
Distributed by: WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Sidney Franklin
Producer: Albert Lewin, Irving Thalberg