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The Good Earth (1937)


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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 4
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 1



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Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 1,007

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Movie Info

Based on Donald Davis and Owen Davis' stage-adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's sprawling novel, Sidney Franklin's The Good Earth is the story of a Chinese farming couple whose lives are torn apart by poverty, greed, and nature. Paul Muni stars as Wang Lung a hardworking, but poor, farmer who weds freed-slave O-Lan (Luise Rainer). They struggle to build a life together, but after finally finding success, a plague of locusts descends upon their land, bringing a true test of the couple's perseverance.

Jan 31, 2006


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All Critics (13) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (12) | Rotten (1) | DVD (7)

No harmful false note is struck.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's a typically lumbering, cautious, overblown Thalberg project, saved by Rainer's genuinely moving, Oscar-winning portrayal of Chinese peasantry, and by an immensely spectacular storm of locusts.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Once again Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has enriched the screen with a superb translation of a literary classic.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Critical opinion has not been kind, but studio excavators may find much to admire.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Epic in scope, though intimate in effect.

August 10, 2010 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

Earnest and solemn, The Good Erath, based on Pearl Buck's Pulitzer prize-winning best-seller, is a typical MGM "prestige" literary adaptation, honoring Luise Rainer with a second (undeserved) Best Actress Oscar.

January 31, 2009 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

more of a time capsule than a great piece of filmmaking

March 13, 2006 Full Review Source:

It somehow worked, and was a remarkable tribute to MGM's dream factory.

May 24, 2003 Full Review Source: Film4

Gorgeously photographed, beautifully acted.

March 19, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Classic melodrama.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for The Good Earth

Long and slow but entertaining if you stick with it. Muni as was his usual practice when buried under makeup slightly hammy but less so than when he played Zola or Pasteur. He does what he can to humanize a basically thoughtless, selfish and reprehensible man although he is not for one instant believable as an Asian. Someone who isn't hammy is Luise Rainer in a beautifully judged performance that won a richly deserved Oscar. She makes the rest of the sometimes ponderous film worth watching.
January 22, 2014
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

If you can get over the fact that a lot of the actors are Americans made up to look like Asians, you will enjoy this movie. It's a drama, but it's also the exciting journey of a man and wife. I really thought it was going to be boring, but the beginning slowly drew me into the lives of the characters, and I loved Rainer's performance, her character is so beautiful. It's not the best movie in the world, for instance, it could have had actual Asian actors, and more stars, but it's a good movie the way it is and I recommend it.
September 16, 2010

Super Reviewer

"the good earth" is the earliest massive hollywood productions for oriental epic in exclusion of fu manchu series. it has great ambition to interpret the national spirit of china, its farming business under a bunch of stagy performances from caucasion yellow-face. and the issue has no relevance of its chinese authenticness but how old america views china.

it is a story about wang lung the farmer(paul muni), who marries a slavegirl in the big house named o-lan. and together they strive for their rocky future with mettle with their conventional chinese virtues. they've been thru harvest prosperity, drought, famine and the revolution of republic china as well as wang's illict affair with courtesan lotus.

mostly it depicts the condescending perspect of man's derogatory viewpoint on women which is actually true in ancient china, and women are merely usable products who help men to plow the rice fields and bring them extensions. without that, a woman could be considered worthless, and the dichotomy of benevolent saint and malevolent siren reflects on the two major female characters: o-lan, the slavegirl turning to the farmer's wife; lotus, the insidious temptress who drains men's wealth. eventually the conclusion would be good woman is like earth which provides everything with endless flourishments.

the earliest chinese star then anna may wong was keen to obtain the role of virtuous o-lan to alter her dreary image of malicious sirens in a bunch of negative orient-themed movies where she has to die "a thousand times" in the end. but the studio refuses to grant her that becuz of the racial segregation principle then: a caucasion male cannot make love or pair licitly with a oriental female on screen (so asian women are neither mistresses or villainy on screen), even as roles of yellow face. even the temptress lotus goes down to another actress with approved ethnicity despite the role lotus is literarily inspired by the oriental femme fatale image in wong's early silent pictures.

the point of making "the good earth" itself is a campy articce, so why bother to use a real chinese or not since the story won't present the real china anyway? as for anna may wong, she is thorough america-nourished american except her ethnicity, and she doesn't even conform to the corny chinese virtues of obediency or dependency on man anyway, further more she has never been with a chinese man for all her life at all. so in exclusion of her chinese outlook, there's not really any that much of traditional chineseness in her. so it won't be really a shame or a pity for her abscence as o-lan in this piece, but she would probably make an adequate lotus.

the title song for "the good earth" would be "the jasmine song" which has nothing to do with farming but a common folk song praising the beauty of jasmine flower in spite of its melodius smoothness. and in the scene of new infant birth, it's accompanied with the song celebrating the feng-yang drum which is my father's regional folk song in old china. so it would be highly phony to deem "the good earth" as a chinese epic, and even pearl s. buck who writes the original novel might have some bias for china. but it does bare some worthwhile process of collecting crops from the rice fields which i have never paid attention before. and the photography has its contrived oriental aesthetism under the helm of four directors, including victor fleming from "gone with the wind".

so allow me to put it this way, the pleasure of "good earth" would be the brass flatulency of vintage caucasion hollywood's eccentric perception on "the inscrutable orient". ABSOLUTE CAMP!
March 13, 2010
Veronique Kwak

Super Reviewer

Holds fairly closely to Buck's novel. Sadly having most of the lead roles filled by non-Chinese actors such as Muni, Rainer, Connolly, and Grapewin shows the prejudices of the time. And yet Paul Muni and Luise Rainer were a couple of the most prestigious actors of the day. They bring the emotional heft of each scene to life as best they can, which is to say strongly. The Good Earth is kind of the flip side of the coin from The Last Emperor. The latter deals primarily with what goes on inside the palace walls, while the former is concerned with a family of peasants outside the walls. Both cover several decades of 20th century Chinese history, but Pearl S. Buck's tale does not feel like a history lesson. In this story one can observe some major events on China's timeline in the background, however it is about the common farmers and the love and trials of a husband and wife. Rainer and Muni excellently show how an arranged marriage in the old tradition can develop into a deep loving bond. Out of mother Earth a love can slowly grow like a tree.
May 2, 2013

Super Reviewer

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