Elizabeth (Jean Simmons), an English cousin of the Rambeau family, arrives in California in 1931 for a casual visit with her aunt and uncle, only to find her future pre-determined with a pre-arranged marriage to Andre Swann, a young cousin of another branch of the family. Another cousin, John Rambeau (Rock Hudson), disagrees with those plans, informs Elizabeth that she's being married off to consolidate the family's wine holdings, hints at other dark secrets of the Rambeau family, and casually romances her. Elizabeth is conflicted over the entire series of events.
The patriarch of the family, Phillipe (Claude Rains), wanting to keep the winemaking heritage of his family pure, refuses to deal with bootleggers eager for a ready-made supply of alcohol. John, however, is not so righteous, and arranges deals with Chicago gangsters for the valley's wine supply. Violence, gunplay, and wildfires ensue. Elizabeth is caught in the middle, between Andre, the gentle man she is to marry (but who wants to be a priest) and John, the passionate man ready to make a deal with the devil to survive. And John may already have started a family of his own, fathering an illegitimate child with a vineyard worker—and the woman's husband is not one to go along with the whole sordid mess. Months, and years, of lies, blackmail and conflict follow, ending with the romantic union of John and Elizabeth, and their commitment to the Rambeau winemaking heritage.
In 1931, Lon Rambeau sends his daughter Elizabeth Rambeau away from London to Napa Valley, California to visit Lon's father Philippe Rambeau and Phillipe's daughter, Martha Fairon, owners of vast vineyards and a grand estate. Philippe and Martha welcome Elizabeth lavishly, then reveal the real reason for the celebration of her arrival: her betrothal, unknown to Elizabeth, between her and her cousin, Andre Swann. John Rambeau, obviously disliked by matriarch Martha, arrives at the party, flirts with Elizabeth and leads her out into the vineyards, where he mischievously reveals Rambeau family secrets: Philippe uses marriage to tighten the family hold on the valley; Phillipe's daughter, Martha and daughter-in-law, Charlotte (John's mother) had been married off to local landowners in order to increase the vineyard holdings — Phillipe now wants to marry off granddaughter Elizabeth to Andre in order to absorb the Stag's Leap District vineyard holdings in the Napa Valley. (also, Andre had wanted to become a priest, but was not allowed to do so, and had been forced to join the family business).
Continuing his explanation, John points out his house nearby, where his invalid mother Charlotte now lives, and says that he now knows that Martha's husband (John's uncle, Francis Fairon) is his real father, even though everyone claims that Charlotte's late husband had been the biological father to both John and his sister Monica. John then takes the speechless Elizabeth into his arms and kisses her, but she pulls away and runs into the house.
The next day, John gets into an argument with Philippe by insisting that they ignore Prohibition laws and sell their grapes (and wine) to bootleggers. Philippe, who loves John, insists on remaining lawful, explaining once again how he will continue to cultivate and study wines until the time comes to sell them legally. John volunteers to show Elizabeth around the winery, bitterly pointing out the vast stores of wine going to waste. When he asks her about her past and tries to kiss her again, she once again pulls away. As they wander the estate, one of the female workers, Buz Dietrick, flirts with John. Back at the house, Martha spirits Elizabeth away to a lunch with Andre, who is quite comfortable with the idea of an arranged marriage.
Meeting with the local association of grape growers, John tells them that he will make them rich by selling their grapes to a syndicate in Chicago. Some of the traditional growers insist on gaining Philippe's approval first. Ignoring them, John leaves for Chicago to meet with the syndicate — soon after, thugs arrive in the Napa Valley and force the growers to sign contracts.
When John returns to Napa months later, the growers, now grown rich from John's arrangement with the Chicago syndicate, welcome him warmly. John meets the growers at a nightclub, where he finds Buz sitting with her boyfriend, Luigi Griffanti. They all watch Elizabeth and Andre (still not married) dance. John once again romances Elizabeth, who, hoping to dissuade his interest, reveals to him that her father had sent her away from England because she had been involved in a torrid love affair with a cruel man, and she now desires a safe marriage with Andre. A jealous John accuses her of "prostituting" herself for real estate, and she slaps him. John then turns to Buz for comfort, convincing her to leave Luigi and drive off with him. Later, Andre drives Elizabeth home, where he confesses that he is growing to love her. Inside, Martha, aware of Elizabeth's ambivalent feelings over John, confronts her about her past, urging her to marry Andre before he realizes he is getting "damaged goods."
John returns home and tells his mother he will leave the next day for Chicago. The next day Elizabeth, having had a change of heart, races off to see John before his train leaves — she finds him at the station and tells him she loves him. Thrilled, John insists that she wait for his return.
A few months later, a pregnant Buz shows up at the estate to inform Phillipe that the baby is John's — Buz and her father blackmail Philippe. Elizabeth, nearby, hears all, and collapses with grief. Martha directs Buz to tell Luigi the baby is his. Buz and Luigi soon marry, but she fights with both him and his mother when they want to name the baby Cesare, and she wants to name the baby ... John.
Months pass. Martha tries to convince an impatient Andre to wait for Elizabeth to set a wedding date. When John finally returns to Napa Valley, Elizabeth is up in the mountain orchard with Philippe, listening to him explain that this is sacred ground to him, as it was his first plot of land, and his beloved wife is buried here. At the estate, Martha greets John coldly and warns him that he must now conduct business through her, because Philippe is ill. After successfully persuading Martha that they can make millions by selling the Rambeau grapes to the Chicago syndicate, John drives to the mountain orchard. There, Philippe, horrified by John's shady dealings, commands him to leave, as does Elizabeth, who tells him she knows the truth about Buz's baby. Protesting that he can prove that Buz has lied, John races away, accidentally throwing a lit cigarette into the parched fields, starting a blaze. By the time the fire is noticed, it is too late, and the out-of-control wildfire destroys most of the mountain orchard.
Unaware of the fire, John rushes to Buz's house, where mother-in-law Griffanti, upon hearing John's name, figures out that John is her grandson's actual father. As Buz agrees that she will tell Elizabeth that the baby is not John's, Luigi, at his mother's urging, attacks John in a jealous rage. John manages to get away, but Luigi pulls out a gun and shoots him.
At the hospital, John is diagnosed with temporary partial paralysis — when Elizabeth visits to beg his forgiveness, he turns away from her bitterly. Soon, he is able to walk with crutches, and returns home, where he tells his uncle Francis and mother Charlotte that he knows about their affair, which resulted in his birth. John takes the blame for the orchard fire — in return, he forgives the two of them for their deceit, and asks for their forgiveness in exchange.
Months later, Philippe dies, and matriarch Martha gathers the family together for the reading of the will. To Martha's shock and dismay, Philippe has divided the estate equally between his children and grandchildren — he also leaves the mountain orchard to John, the valley vineyards to the still-unmarried Elizabeth, and only the house to Martha. Although Martha is greatly pained by what she sees as an injustice, both she and her husband Francis realize that now she will finally be more interested in her husband and her marriage, instead of the family business.
Within a few weeks, John was starting to restore his mountain orchard to health. One day, Elizabeth joins him with a gift: a grape vine cutting from her valley vineyard. They graft the valley cutting onto a mountain vine, talk about the melding of "valley softness" with "mountain strength", and, finally, fall into each other's arms, declaring their love for each other.
The screenplay for the film, based on the novel The Cup and the Sword by American novelist Alice Tisdale Hobart was written by Casey Robinson, best known for writing most of Bette Davis' best films. Director Henry King had been successfully directing Hollywood films since the 1920s — this film was one of his last. Film composer Hugo Friedhofer (who had won an Oscar for Best Music for 1946's The Best Years of Our Lives) wrote the music; three-time Oscar-winner Winton C. Hoch was the cinematographer.
Production company was Vintage Productions, in partnership with Universal–International Pictures. Production dates for the film were September 2, 1958 through early November, 1958. The production was filmed in Technicolor, with monoaural sound. Napa Valley locations used for filming were:Beaulieu Vineyard
Charles Krug Vineyards
Christian Brothers Vineyards
Draper Vineyard, now called La Perla and part of Spring Mountain Vineyard
Italian Swiss Colony Vineyards
Louis M. Martini Vineyards
Paul Masson Mountain Winery
Stags' Leap Winery (name actually mentioned as part of the plot)
Local residents of the Napa Valley were used as extras in some scenes, and the stars were taught proper vineyard procedures by locals — a difficulty for left-handed Rock Hudson, for whom a left-handed teacher had to be found to demonstrate the proper way to attach a bud from one plant to the root of another, a scene important to the plot at the end of the film.
The New York opening of the film was June 26, 1959; the Los Angeles opening was July 8, 1959.Rock Hudson played John Rambeau
Jean Simmons played Elizabeth Rambeau
Dorothy McGuire played Martha Fairon
Claude Rains played Philippe Rambeau
Kent Smith played Francis Fairon
Anna Lee played Charlotte Rambeau
Ken Scott played Luigi Griffanti
Augusta Merighi played Mrs. Griffanti
Francis Bethencourt played Andre Swann
Stacy Graham played Monica
Peter Chong played Chu
Geraldine Wall played Maria
Alberto Morin played Petucci
Penny Santon played Mrs. Petucci
Jack Mather played Dietrich
Ben Astar played Yakowitz
Dan White played Judge Gruber
Lawrence Ung played David, the Chauffeur
Robert Aiken played Tim Rambeau (as Ford Dunhill)
Cynthia Chenault played Buz Dietrick (as Cindy Robbins)
Don Cornell played Singer of Title Song (voice)
Lionel Ames played Nate Forster
Jean Blake played Suzanne
Olga Borget played Bit Part
Gino DeAgustino played The Porter
Adonis De Milo played Mamoulian
George DeNormand played Ronald Fairon
Paul King played Bit Part
Karyn Kupcinet played Clarissa Smith
Alexander Lockwood played Dr. Regis
Torben Meyer played Hugo
Thomas Murray played Bit Part
Emma Palmese played Bit Part
Emory Parnell played Berke
Josephine Parra played Juanita
Janelle Richards played Cousin
Ethel Sway played Bit Part
Philip Tonge played Dr. Albert Stone
Cecil Weston played Rambeau friend
The film was not well-received:VARIETY (January 1, 1959): This film is almost completely lacking in dramatic cohesion. It is verbose and contradictory, and its complex plot relationships from Alice Tisdale Hobart's novel, "The Cup and the Sword" begin with confusion and end in tedium.
New York Times (June 27, 1959): In describing the intramural trials and tribulations besetting a wealthy clan of California vineyard owners, under the title "This Earth Is Mine," Universal-International has come up with an ambitious family saga as handsome as it is hollow. ... It opened yesterday at the Roxy, where the grapes stole the show.
... although the winemaking community appears to have enjoyed it:The film gives simple-to-understand descriptions of both the winemaking process and how to taste and appreciate wine. It’s bad melodrama, but it’s first class Napa Valley history.