Cast & Crew
In a Texas panhandle saloon, at the beginning of the annual wheat harvest, which stretches north to Canada, Joe Madigan puts together a crew of combine operators to help with the first post-war harvests. Among them is "Bashful" Jim Davis, an old friend of Joe's, who is an expert engine mechanic, but also an irresponsible gambler. Within the first week, Joe fires Jim for cavorting with a woman when he was needed to repair a combine. Jim soon proves his loyalty, however, by risking his life to save a combine from a wheat field fire. As the crew moves north, it discovers that the rival Alperson crew has been under-selling it and stealing its contracts. On the advice of Fay Rankin, the niece of a farmer, Joe's crew beats Alperson's in cutting Rankin's field as a storm approaches. Later Fay visits Joe in his tent and tries to seduce him, but he ignores her. As the rains continue, Jim disappears, and Joe finally finds him at a town dance with Fay, who asks Joe to take her with him. Alperson's crew is also there, and when two of them pester Higgins, the perpetually drunk member of Joe's crew, a brawl breaks out. In the mêlée, Jim loses the cap to one of his front teeth, but Joe finds it before they win the fight. Later, they discover that Alperson's crew has sabotaged one of their machines, and Jim agrees to stay behind and wait for a new machine part. Days later, Jim joins the crew with Fay, who has become his wife. Aware that Fay is only using Jim to get to him, Joe enforces his rule about no women with the crew, but after Jim threatens to quit, changes his mind. In the following weeks, Jim and Fay spend their nights gambling, and he is fooled into believing that she loves him. One night she refuses to go out with Jim and visits Joe in his tent, where she tries to seduce Joe into stealing a few bushels out of every harvested yield. She further provokes Joe by admitting that her marriage to Jim is a joke. After Joe calls her "cheap, poisonous and crooked," Fay slaps him, after which Jim enters and accuses Joe of betraying him. In the following weeks, in Nebraska, Joe finds it increasingly difficult to secure contracts and learns that he has developed a reputation for bringing in low yields. Kink, a crew member who is loyal to Joe, catches Jim stealing wheat and informs Joe. When Kink and Joe go after Jim, they find him as a group of farmers are about to ambush him for trying to unload the stolen wheat. Joe and Kink return to the camp and alert the men, who are determined to expose Jim as a thief and salvage the crew's reputation. Joe, however, knows Fay has been manipulating Jim, and convinces the crew to stand by him. As a convoy of farmers chases the crew out of state, Joe rigs a combine to fall into their path on a narrow road, and the crew safely crosses the border into Wyoming. Later in a saloon, Joe gives Kink money to pay back the Nebraska farmers and talk them out of prosecuting the crew. Alperson then offers to buy Joe's four remaining combines, aware that payment on them is due. Because he paid off the farmers, Joe is short on cash, but Jim announces that he sold Fay's automobile and gives Joe the money, sending Fay into a rage. After she cruelly tells Jim that she only married him to be near Joe, he and Jim fight. When Jim again loses his tooth, Joe pauses good-naturedly to find it before hitting his friend one last time. As the two men lie on the floor exhausted, crew member Mark enters and cheerfully announces that he got them a new booking--3,000 acres of clear profit. Jim tells Fay she is looking older, and exits with Joe. Kink then gives Alperson a slap, before helping Joe and Jim carry off Higgins, who is again dead drunk.
Eddy C. Waller
Homer D. Cooper
Oscar L. Cooper
Ralph E. Cooper
John Monks Jr.
John F. Seitz
Many of the "wheat fields" shown in the movie - other than stock footage - are actually alfalfa fields. The location shots were filmed in the area around Arvin, California, where there isn't much wheat but there are huge areas of farmland consisting of alfalfa, which is used to feed the thousands of cows in the surrounding dairy farms.
The title of Houston Branch's unpublished story was "The Big Haircut," which, along with The Big Harvest, was a working title for the film. According to Par News, the studio recreated an actual wheatfield on one of its soundstages by transplanting four acres of wheat from the Russell Giffen ranch, forty-two miles north of Fresno, CA, into soil-filled flats. Harvesting combines were then used to cut the wheat during shooting, after which 200 bushels were donated to charity. Early location shooting took place in 120-degree heat at the Giffen ranch from late June to early Jul. According to a Los Angeles Times article about the ranch shooting, the Giffen ranch was the "world's largest irrigated wheat farm." The article noted that the post-war wheat harvest theme of the film "has special intensity this year, with the whole world crying for bread."
In addition to Fresno, a second unit crew traveled to Spokane, WA for four weeks of location shooting. According to Par News, portions of an actual wheat harvest in California, Kansas and North Dakota-a total of approximately 100,000 acres-were shot for the film. The film was publicized as Dorothy Lamour's first straight, dramatic role. The New York Times review commented that in the film, Paramount puts forth a "somewhat amazing doctrine" that Lamour's "heretofore resistless charms...have no diverting power whatsoever over a duty-bent Alan Ladd....All of which is highly reassuring in these days when the world is crying for wheat. But it doesn't make for much of a movie." Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter list Chico Alonzo as assistant director, although John Murphy is credited on the screen in that capacity.