Luise Rainer received her second nomination and second consecutice Best Actress award for playing O-Lan, a slave becoming the wife of a poor Chinese peasant in The Good Earth. By this, Rainer become not only the first double winner in history, but she also caused very much controversy. I guess much of that comes from the fact that she won over huge stars like Greta Garbo, Irene Dunne and Barbara Standwyck who didn't go to win Oscars. They only had movies for the ages. Still, this win remains quite strange, very much like Hilary Swank's second win (though I really don't want to compare them).
The Good Earth is a very good but a bit too long (and maybe even boring) movie about the struggles and sufferings of a Chinese peasant family. I'd say that this movie really must have touched the members of the Academy and the viewers at the time. It shows a really devastating and (for its age) realistic portrait of poverty. Many people despise it for being politically incorrect as it features European actors as Chinese people. Yes, that's not the best but I think it was only because studios wanted to attract people with the names of the stars. In my opinion, this movie talks about Asian people with deep, real respect. So, overall, I can really recommend you this movie. It's really worth watching it at least once.
Luise Rainer is an actress that most people know as the one who won two Oscars first. Indeed, it's quite surprising that someone who didn't have a big Hollywood career was the first one in that. She didn't have many film roles after The Good Earth and that's probably because she rebelled against all the rules of Hollywood. Back than, Hollywood didn't tolerate rebels (even less than today) and that damaged Ms. Rainer's career in the motion picture industry. Still, I think that she's a truly great actress and it's no wonder that some of her scenes are shown at acting classes.
As I was watching Rainer's performance The Good Earth for the second time, I was looking for parallels with other works that I've reviewed on this blog in order to help me totally understand this work. To tell the truth, the very recent past came to my help and namely, Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, it's a very strange comparision but I think it's quite true. O-Lan and Ree Dolly are distant relatives in their strength in heart, their determination to fight for their family. Ree is more cheeky, however, and O-Lan is extremely humble. O-Lan is someone who (like Ree) experienced the darkest sides of life, humiliation and despair.
Luise Rainer didn't have to learn many lines for this movie but I think this was a really difficult part. O-Lan doesn't speak much and yet she communicates everything with her eyes and face. Rainer's excellent at playing with her face. Sometimes we don't even have to wait for what O-Lan might say, we can read from Rainer's face. Every thought, every emotion is right there and Luise, fortunately, never overplays the reactions of O-Lan. It can seem exaggerated, of course, but I think that fit O-Lan's personality. O-Lan had very strong emotions and Luise's firmness helped me understand that much easier.
I think what people don't realise is how strong O-Lan really is. Just picture the scene where her husband cannot kill the ox and then she does it. Because she has to. Yes, in a way, O-Lan is quite clichéd but somehow that never bothered me because of the purity of the character and Rainer's performance. O-Lan is a really unselfish and extremely loveable person and she wins over the audience's sympathy instantly, so Rainer's work is not thankless here.
However, the overall effect of the performance could have been stronger. It's mostly the fault of the screenplay as it didn't give enough time to Rainer to fully develop O-Lan's personality. She just doesn't have enough time and there could have been so brilliant moments and O-Lan had so many other great possibilities that Luise couldn't live with as the screenplay didn't let her.
This is a great performance and I can really understand thos who love it but I also understand the arguments against it. Still, Luise Rainer gives a very loveable and truly great performance as O-Lan which may not be for the ages but it is certainly very memorable and its emotional nature is truly impressive. Well done work with some incredible moments by a great actress.
What do you think? Irene is going to be next.