Review: The Good Earth (1937)


Nothing quite says China like a bunch of white people!

Screenplay By: Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger & Claudine West
Directed By: Victor Fleming, Sidney Franklin, Gustav Machatý & Sam Wood

I’m not going to mince words with you, I have never been okay with the Hollywood idea of putting white people in ethnic roles. If you want to change a stories setting and then change the ethnicity of the characters that’s fine and dandy. But, I am not okay with having a story take place in China and dressing up all your white leads so that they look somewhat Asian, just minus all the actual physical characteristics of an Asian. But hey, they have weird speech patterns, therefore they must be Asian, right? Right? Needless to say The Good Earth immediately places a hurdle in front of the viewer with the white stars attempting their version of “It’s not Halloween, but I’m an Asian.” Some people can get over this problem, I am not one of them. Throughout the film a bunch of white people playing Asians in a Chinese setting bugged the heck out of me, to the point where the movie was unbearable for the most part.

Now that we have my main issue out of the way, I also had problems with the narrative and tone of The Good Earth. There are certain movies that leave you feeling like an outsider looking in on the proceedings. You aren’t drawn into what is happening, so you aren’t invested in any way and really don’t care about what happens. The Good Earth is one such movie. Not only do the leaps in time hurt the movies ability to connect with the viewer, but there isn’t a single scene that is ever allowed the room to breathe. The Good Earth plays out like a series of snapshots into the lives of these people, and we are never able to piece together all we need to know because the camera never stays with any scene long enough.

That’s not to say The Good Earth was a complete washout of a film. The settings were rendered beautifully, the cinematography varied between good and excellent and the effects used for the locust scene were top notch. In all of the above The Good Earth was an above average film, it just so happens that in all other categories it was a subpar effort.

There are far better films, both modern and classic, that can give you a glimpse into Asian plights and struggles. The Good Earth has the right subject matter, but it misfires in its execution and most vividly in its casting. Skip The Good Earth, it’s not a rental, nor is it worth a stumble onto watch.




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