Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Farmer's Wife (live action movie)

I'm pretty sure this is the first silent film I've reviewed on this blog. It's part of the same Alfred Hitchcock collection I own that contains The Lady Vanishes.

I thought about calling this a romantic comedy, but, considering that the romance doesn't come up until the last 30 minutes of the movie, plain old "comedy" is probably more appropriate.

Synopsis:

At the beginning of this movie, everyone in Farmer Samuel Sweetland's household is deeply upset, because the farmer's wife is ill. After she dies, some time passes, and the farmer's daughter gets married. That puts the idea in his head that it's high time for him to be remarried, so, with the help of Minta, his housekeeper, he makes a list of the area's eligible women. He starts off convinced that he'll only need to visit the first lady on the list, but things don't go at all as he expected them to. Will he give up and stay a lonely widower, or will he notice that lovely, sweet Minta cares for him and is the kind of woman he's been looking for?

Review:

Before I watched this, I hadn't realized that Hitchcock ever did anything but thrillers. From my “modern movie viewer” perspective, The Farmer's Wife definitely had its weaknesses, but it was funnier than I expected and, although it had what seemed to me to be very few title cards (not that I have many points of comparison, not having seen many silent films), I never had any trouble understanding what was going on.

From the description on the back of my DVD box, I was expecting this to be a romance - from that perspective, this movie falls very, very flat. For the most part, Minta was little more than a lovely background character. She got all mushy over the farmer in the last 30 minutes of the movie, but there was very little in any of her and the farmer's earlier scenes together to suggest a budding, unrecognized romance. They clearly got along well, but that was about it – when Samuel first put his list together, it never even crossed his mind to add Minta to it, and when he finally did add her to his list he did little to indicate that he thought of her any differently than the other women he had proposed to. I did like that, once he decided on Minta and Minta accepted his proposal, he didn't waver in his decision, even when he was given the opportunity to do so. However, I wish Minta hadn't accepted his proposal so quickly. I would have preferred it if she had made Samuel work a little for her acceptance. (Yes, I know this movie was made in 1928. However, I did not watch it in 1928.)

As a romance, this movie was bland, but as a comedy it was a bit better. In the beginning, Samuel was filled with confidence, convinced he'd only need to ask the first woman on his list. After all, what unmarried woman would turn down marriage to a fine man like him? Every single unmarried woman he asked, that's who.

My favorite woman was the first one, Louisa. She was an awesome lady, who, from what I could tell, enjoyed hunting. Anyway, she rejected Samuel right away, telling him that she was too independent for a man like him. He got angry and insulted her, all of which she took in a stride.

I was curious as to how the next two women would deal with Samuel's proposals. I guessed that Thirza, the second woman, was the oldest of the bunch and might potentially be as interested in getting married as Samuel. Instead, she turned him down, too – Samuel managed to rub her the wrong way right from the start, arriving too early to her party, before she'd had a chance to finish getting herself ready. Mary, the third woman, turned him down too – to my surprise, she was so upset by Samuel that she went into hysterics (an embarrassing example of overacting on the actress's part, in my opinion).

One of the movie's biggest weaknesses was that it was too long. Some of the scenes could have benefited from being a bit shorter, but one of the clearest examples of padding was the fourth woman. The movie should really have stopped after the first three and moved from there to Samuel finally realizing that Minta was the best possible wife for him. Instead, Samuel went off and asked a fourth woman, who I don't think had even previously appeared in the movie, to marry him. She didn't add anything to the movie at all in terms of humor or story developments.

All in all, this was an okay movie that could have benefited from a little trimming, earlier indications that Minta had feelings for Samuel, and more of an effort (or any effort at all?) on Samuel's part to woo Minta. Still, I enjoyed watching Samuel propose to and be rejected by the first three women. Churdles Ash, Samuel's grouchy handyman, was another bright point in the movie.

Coming up with a list of similar works was a bit hard for me. On a related note, looking up Wikipedia entries for actors and actresses in silent films is a bit of a minefield. The actor who played the farmer looked so familiar that I was sure I must have seen him in something else, or that he had a famous child or something, so I clicked on his entry and learned that he died of tuberculosis. The actress who played Minta didn't make the transition to talkies and eventually committed suicide. Depressing stuff.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • The Manxman (live action movie) - (Another film directed by Hitchcock) Pete, a fisherman, and Philip, a lawyer, have been friends for years. Pete wants to marry Kate, but Kate's father doesn't think he's good enough for her, so Pete leaves Kate in Philip's care and goes off to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, Kate and Philip begin to fall for each other. Those who'd like another silent movie with romantic aspects might want to try this.
  • The Ring (live action movie) - (Another film directed by Hitchcock) No, this isn't the horror movie featuring creepy, long-haired Sadako. In this movie, two boxers compete for the love of one woman. The woman, Nellie, is engaged to one of the boxers, Jack. I thought this movie might appeal to those looking for another silent film with romantic aspects. 
  • The Lady Vanishes (live action movie) - This isn't a silent movie, and it's a thriller, but it might still appeal to those looking for another Hitchcock movie with funny moments and a bit of romance. I've written about this movie.
  • The Farmer's Wife (play) by Eden Phillpotts - Looking around online, I learned that the movie was based on a play by Eden Phillpotts. I've never read or seen this play, so I don't know what it's like or how faithfully the movie followed the play, but it would certainly be something for fans of the movie to check out.

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