Claude Rains reigns over a kingdom of grapes in 1959's This Earth is Mine
, a sweeping, soap operatic melodrama set in California's Napa Valley during Prohibition. Big doses of Tennessee Williams and Douglas Sirk influenced the flavour of this Henry King film in which Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons are tormented by sexuality, venerable family politics, taboo, and the state of the wine business when selling wine was illegal. Never quite as good as some other such films from 50s Hollywood, it is at times a decadent pleasure.
Our avatar into the world of Napa's Rambeau family is Simmons' character, Elizabeth, who's just arrived from England. Her grandfather, Philippe (Rains), presides over acres of his personal vineyards and many more vineyards that pay tribute to him like fiefs. It's so feudal that Philippe and his second in command, his daughter Martha (Dorothy McGuire), have secretly brought Elizabeth over for an arranged marriage in order to ensure part of the property stays in the family.
They want her to marry her cousin, Andre (Francis Bethencourt), a dull, but agreeable enough fellow for the depressed and unambitious Elizabeth. But there's an X factor here named John Rambeau (Rock Hudson)--not to be confused with John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). Tall, dark, handsome, and eager to sell grapes to bootlegging gangsters.
He gives Elizabeth a cordial and surprisingly informative tour of the facilities. He tells her and us about the appropriate uses of redwood and oak casks and limestone caves before making his second uninvited move on Elizabeth.
He makes her furious much as he makes Philippe furious for bringing in the tenant vintners on his scheme to sell grapes to bootleggers. The dastardly John is all about doing things his way--and barely gets away with it because he makes a whole lot of money with his scheme and it turns out Elizabeth is in love with him. He presents an attractive contrast to the family who looks down on her for her own past of sexual impropriety.
You'd never guess this movie was set in the 20s from the costumes.
The climax of the film presents disaster and chaos, the wrath of a particularly creative God as an impressive assortment of misunderstandings, gunshots, brushfires, and revelations of illegitimate children collide. I had to sit back and just marvel at the pile. But I did grow to like the characters, in no small part for their performances. Rains at this point was still a very effective performer and his charm quickly won me over.