The Universal Pictures Blogathon: Harvey

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Universal Pictures is well-known for its horror movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein. However, the studio also produced other kinds of films; dramas, like comedies. I have the pleasure, today, to participate in The Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes. The Universal film I’ll write about is one of the most imaginative ones: Harvey, directed by Henry Koster and released in 1950. The movie was based on a play by Mary Chase. The cast was composed of James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Jesse White, William H. Lynn, and Wallace Ford.

Universal Blogathon - Birds

Harvey presents us the story of the most social and friendly person ever: Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart). Elwood is a very nice guy, but there’s something special about him: he has an imaginary friend, a giant rabbit, a “Pooka”, that only he can see. He leaves with his sister, Veta (Josephine Hull) and his niece, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne) who are both desperate by his strange behaviour. Elwood doesn’t see any anomaly in this and it’s always a pleasure for him to introduce Harvey (that’s the name of his friend) to the new people he meets. During a tea party organized by Veta, Harvey makes everybody leaves after having introduced Harvey to them. Traumatized by Elwood, they all find a pretext to leave the house. Veta, who can’t stand it anymore, decides to do something she should have done since a long time: place Elwood in a mental institution, so he can be “cured” and forget Harvey. Elwood, who also is a very innocent man, doesn’t see any harm in being taken there. Only, things won’t turn as Veta would have wished when Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake) will misunderstand the situation and think the person with a mental issue is Veta and not Elwood. Well, I won’t say more for those who haven’t seen the film, but you can imagine it’s a movie full of surprises.

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Does Elwood really has mental issues or is he just very imaginative? We’ll never know. All we can say is that, after all, we also appreciate this Harvey, and this film certainly presents us one of the best on-screen friendship. It’s a movie that tells us that nothing is wrong with imagination and that we all have the right to be friend with everyone we like, even if it’s a giant rabbit that nobody can see. Because of James Stewart character’s, Elwood, it’s also a movie that makes us understand that we sometimes worry too much about insignificant things. Elwood is a person that appreciates life and knows how to enjoy it in its simplest way. He’s ALWAYS happy. He understands that it’s no use to be worried and angry all the time and that makes him quite a swell guy. Yes, Elwood P. Down certainly is the person everybody would like to be friend with, even if we have to compete with his best friend Harvey.

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Elwood also has a strong advantage (and quality) to be played by the one and only James Stewart. Well, as he is my favourite actor, it makes me appreciate this character even more.  I think I’m right when I say that this is surely one of his most appreciated performances. There’s a real sensibility in his acting and he makes us smile from the beginning until the end. Of course, I hate this when other characters are mean to him because he’s just the most gentle person in the world. James Stewart was fortunate to receive an Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance. Unfortunately, he did not win. As IMDB informs us, Henry Koster really enjoyed working with James Stewart and said some very kind words about him: “without any doubt one of the most pleasant experiences of my life…It must have been his spirit. There was very little friction, ever, only ambition and craftsmanship and precision, just doing it right professionally. On top of that he put the whipped cream of great talent…He was always the first on the set.” (Henry Koster)

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Josephine Hull, however, did win the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for her memorable performance of Veta. She was unforgettable indeed, and this award was well-deserved. She surely was made for this role. And that voice! It was so suitable for her character! All the other actors did an amazing job. I was glad to find Cecil Kellaway back, because, before seeing Harvey, I really liked him in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? I think, except Elwood, my favorite character is Myrtle Mae, played by Victoria Horne. Very tall just like James Stewart, she certainly is her uncle’s niece! I also enjoy her little love story with Marvin Wilson (Jesse White), who doesn’t seem to be the romantic type. Of course, Veta’s scandalized reactions when she sees the two together are quite hilarious. You see, she loathes this man!

Josephine Hull and Victoria Horne
Josephine Hull and Victoria Horne
Peggy Dow
Peggy Dow
Cecil Kellaway
Cecil Kellaway
The handsome Charles Drake
The handsome Charles Drake
Jesse White
Jesse White
William H. Lynn
William H. Lynn
Wallace Ford in a small, but important part
Wallace Ford in a small, but important part

As I mentioned previously, Harvey was based on a play. Of course, I would have loved to see this one. Well, if it’s staged one day in Montreal, I’ll make sure not to miss it. Josephine Hull originally played the role of Veta in the Broadway stage production before the movie was taken to the screen. That leads me to the screenplay. This one was well made. The story is very original, of course, and there is a good evolution of the characters, especially Veta. You can find some great lines in this film. Most of my favourites are Elwood Here’s ones. Here are some:

1- Elwood P. Dowd: – Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

This quote explains perfectly why Elwood is such a nice guy.

2- Elwood P. Dowd: – I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.

3- Elwood: – Miss Kelly, you know, when you wear my flower you make it beautiful.

He’s a charmer!

4- Elwood: Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now if you should ever want to call me, call me at this number. Don’t call me at that one, that’s the old one.

What he always says when he introduces himself to a new person.

5- Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet: – Is, is that Mrs. Frank Cummings? Doesn’t she look ghastly, I thought she was dead. I must get a closer look.

6- Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet: – Does Elwood see anybody these days?

Veta Louise Simmons: Oh, yes, Aunt Ethel, Elwood sees *somebody*.

7- Elwood:  Oh, every day is a beautiful day.

8- Veta: -Oh good! Nobody here but people.

And some others! Anyway, this film/ play was brilliantly written.

Finally, I want to give good credits to the nice cinematography of this film. It is not well-known for this, but the film can be visually beautiful, especially during the final scene. Here is an image, just an image. It doesn’t tell you what happens. Anyway, I’m sure you have seen it many times. William H. Daniels is the one who created this poetic a pretty cinematography.

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Harvey certainly can be credited as one of Universal’s best motion pictures. They can be proud of themselves and Henry Koster too for having made such a beautiful movie. I read this fun trivia on IMDB that makes us the impression that this was a nice movie to shoot: “As a joke, the cast and crew would often set a chair for the title character at lunch and order him something to eat.” (IMDB). Love this! 🙂

I invite you, of course, to discover many other great Universal Pictures’ films by reading the other entries of this nice blogathon! Of course, a big thank to Silver Scenes for hosting it!

The Universal Pictures Blogathon Day 1

The Universal Pictures Blogathon Day 2

The Universal Pictures Blogathon Day 3

The Universal Pictures Blogathon Day 4

Harvy drawn by Jimmy Stewart. Isn't this cute? :)
Harvey drew by Jimmy Stewart. Isn’t this cute? 🙂
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The Inn of the Sixth Happiness: Joy, Sadness and Love

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Some movies are so good, so good that it should be illegal. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (Mark Robson, 1958), is one of them. It would be impossible for me to describe how much I love this film, from the beginning to the end. There isn’t a moment in this 2h30’s film that I find boring or too long. Yes, it’s a long film, but I wouldn’t mind if it was longer! It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to change the world, that makes you feel strong. It’s a movie that makes you live various emotions: happiness, love, sadness, hope, etc. The best adjective to describe The Inn of the Sixth would be: POWERFUL. Powerful because it has a strong impact on you. Being a real tearjerker, you can’t not feel moved after having seen it. Oh, and it has Ingrid Bergman. What more can we ask?

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a film based on the novel The Small Woman, written by Alan Burges, itself on the life of Gladys Aylward. The film starts in London, in the 30’s. Gladys (Ingrid Bergman) is a young British second maid who dreams of going to China as a Christian missionary. Unfortunately, she is told that she can’t be sent there due to her lack of education. A little, discouraged, but not ready to give up, she decides to go by herself. In a travel agency, she asks information for the train ticket. She’s going to start a new job as a housekeeper at Sir Francis Jamison’s (Ronald Squire) place, so she decides to pay her plane ticket with the money she’ll rise, giving a little amount to the agency each week until the ticket is completely paid. Thanks to Sir Francis Jamison, who has some connections in China, Gladys has a place to stay in this foreign country: at Jeannie Lawson’s (Athene Seyler) inn in Yang Cheng. Jeannie is a strong old woman full of life. She lives in an inn, that hasn’t been opened for a while, with her cook, Yang (Peter Chong). She has decided to reopen the inn with the help of Gladys and Yang. This is a success and the new Inn is named: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. [SPOILER]: After a bad accident, Jeannie dies, leaving Gladys and Yang alone to handle the inn. [END OF SPOILER].

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The mandarin of Yang Cheng (Robert Donat) is desperately in need of a foot inspector to make sure that the traditional practice of foot binding is stopped in the regions he governs. Gladys is the one chosen. It’s a success. She then helps the illiterate people to read, adopts many orphans, stops a fight in a jail, makes several good actions and many friends. She is loved by everybody and is re-named Jen-Ai (The Woman who Loves the People) by the locals. Meanwhile, she meets Captain Lin Nan (Curt Jürgens) and they fell in love with each other. This one encourages her to leave the country due to an imminent Japanese’s invasion. She refuses because she belongs to China. When the war between Japan and China begins, it’s a catastrophe and the village is completely destroyed. The population has to evacuate the town. Now, having a hundred children to take care of, Gladys leaves the village with them to take them to a more secure place. This will be a long and hard expedition.

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The real Gladys Aylward was not pleased with the film. According to her, the tall Swedish Ingrid Bergman was not a good choice for the leading role, as Gladys really was a small brunette with a cockney accent. Some characters and places named were changed and some aspects of the film didn’t reflect perfectly what really happened to Gladys. Ok, she is probably the best judge as the movie is about her, but that doesn’t make it a bad one! Yes, it might be a not so good biopic about Aylward’s life, but the movie itself is simply great. It’s a movie with a lot of potentials and it’s the kind of movie that is generally highly appreciated.

The real Gladys Aylward
The real Gladys Aylward

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was nominated for Best Director Oscar (but didn’t win). It won a Golden Globes for Best Film Promoting International Understanding and was nominated for Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama (Ingrid Bergman) and Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama (Robert Donat). Ingrid Bergman and Kurt Jürgens were also both nominated for a BAFTA Award (Best Foreign Actor and Best Foreign Actress). Mark Robson received a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. Finally, both Ingrid Bergman and Robert Donat won a Best Actress and Best Actor National Board of Review, USA Award. The film was the second most popular film at the British Box Office in 1959. In other words, the reception was good.

Something I found quite interesting about The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is the fact that it was directed by Mark Robson, who was born in Montreal! That’s where I live. Before becoming a director (The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Valley of Dolls, etc.), Robson first was a film editor. He worked as Robert Wise’s assistant some well-known classics such as Citizen Kane, and The Magnificent Ambersons, and also edited Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie.

Director Mark Robson
Director Mark Robson

Talking about Montreal, places, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a movie that makes me want to travel, to go to China. Of course, it has changed a lot since then and, back in the 30s, it didn’t seem to be the safest place in the world, but Gladys Aylward’s passion and devotion for it is so sincere so it makes you curious to know more about this country. However, outdoor scenes were not shot in China, but in North Wales, UK. So, the beautiful landscapes we see are not Chinese ones but Wales ones. The studio shooting was done in England. It can remind us of Stanley Kubrick, who shot Full Metal Jacket near London… Well, should I conclude that it makes we want to see North Wales and not necessarily China? Well, I’d like to see both, but what I see in this film is China, not North Wales. I’d like to go in the small villages, just like Gladys.

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Despite the fact that the casting for this film was not perfect, well for the three main actors: Ingrid Bergman (not being enough British), Robert Donat and Curt Jürgens (both European playing Chineses), the interpretations were great and that’s one of my favourite aspects of the film. I believe this was Ingrid Bergman’s most touching performance. I simply love her in this. Her acting is so honest, so strong. We really connect with her. She and Jürgens make a great team and, together, embodied one of my favourite on-screen love stories. They are so beautiful together and honestly make your heart beat. There’s a very touching scene when the two are in an inn full of people who all sleep together. Ingrid is lying with Six Pence, the little girl you adopted, next to her. Curt arrives and sees that the only place where he can lay is next to them. So, he lays there and the image we see is Ingrid and Curt with the little girl in the middle, just like they were a family. It’s simply beautiful.

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This film was, unfortunately, Robert Donat’s last one. He was very ill during the shooting and died during the making of the film. Even if he wasn’t a Chinese portraying a Chinese, but an English man portraying a Chinese man, I thought he did an amazing job. His performance was really convincing. He too has a great on-screen chemistry with Ingrid Bergman and how sad is it to know that it was his last film. He was only 53 when he died. I think it’s because of this film that he became a favourite of mine. I also have to give good credits to Athene Seyler who was cast as Jeannie Lawson. She plays her character with a great energy and an impressive strength. She is very lovable. There are many other great actors in this film, but I will conclude by mentioning Peter Chong who played Yang. I don’t know a lot about this actor, but he was GREAT and was, in my opinion, very well cast. Peter Chong really is the funny guy in this film, the one with whom you want to be friend. Robert Donat also has a great humour.

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NPG x88033; Athene Seyler by Vivienne

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was filmed in Technicolor and it’s indeed one of the most colourful films I’ve ever seen, aesthetically and narratively. It’s beautiful. The Technicolor technique was really used to its full potential. We like black & white films, but this is the kind of films that glorify the color classics. It is a film that I would LOVE to see on big screen. If you ever did, well, I’m very jealous!

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Finally, I also have to give good credits to the music score composed by British music composer Malcolm Arnold (best known for his score for The Bridge of the River Kwai). I said this film makes you live many emotions. Well, two things are the reasons for it: the actors’ performances (especially Ingrid Bergman’s one) and this tremendous score. When it starts during the opening titles, it’s simply magic. The story hasn’t really started yet, but it immediately makes you love the film. Yes, thanks to it, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness really begins en force. I’m surprised this beautiful music wasn’t nominated for any awards… You can listen to it just down here

As I said at the beginning of this review, this film never gets boring. Why? Because there are so many things happening. The last 30 minutes are the most  exciting ones, but the entire movie is a real entertainment. It’s the kind of picture you can watch even when you’re really tired because it keeps you awake. I often said that my favourite Ingrid Bergman’s film was Spellbound, but sometimes I wonder if it’s not this one. Well, I love them both very much, so it’s very hard to choose. Anyway, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is definitely in my top 20, or maybe in my top 15.

If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! 😀 I told you, you won’t regret a minute of it! I just re-watched it with my mother. I wanted to show it to her for a long time. She thought it was an excellent film. 🙂

Ingrid and her children on the set of the film
Ingrid Bergman and her Italian children on the set of the film

Silent Cinema Blogathon: The Farmer’s Wife

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This article is part of the Silent Cinema Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin.

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Silent films tend to be forgotten nowadays, probably due to the fact that they were made a long time ago (with the exception of The Artist, which is a great film by the way). People will mostly remember Charlie Chaplin’s ones, but there’s much more to discover. There’s something magical about those. They were very inventive and actors had to express themselves only with their facial and body language. I must admit, I prefer silent comedies, but there are some good silent dramas too. The thing with silent film is that something has to happen. It can’t be just people sitting at a table and talking, otherwise, people will lose interest and get bored. Recently, I’ve seen a 2 hours Russian silent science-fiction film in class and well…slept over it. The same happened this silent documentary about the Russian revolution. These films have a certain potential, but many faults too, and they were NOT made for a large audience. Anyway, I’m not here to talk about movies I don’t like, but about good silent films, those we have the pleasure to watch and that glorify the world of silent films. Just to continue with the Russian cinema, back in the 20s, it certainly was one of the most glorious cinematic industry, if we think of Sergei Eisenstein’s and Dziga Vertov’s films. My personal favourite is The Movie with a Movie Camera. In a way, this film, even if it’s just contemplative, makes me think of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. I also love the music. Well, the one in the version I’ve seen.

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My friends Crystal and Lauren Champkin, today, give the chance, to all those who want to participate in their new blogathon, to talk about something connected to the world of silent cinema: movies, movie stars, directors, etc. On my side, I’ve decided to go with The Farmer’s Wife, a 1928’s British film directed by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock. This is not my favourite silent film, I don’t LOVE it, I LIKE it, but there’s interesting stuff to talk about. I also wanted to go with something else than a Chaplin or Buster Keaton’s film, because I wanted people to discover a lesser known film. Indeed, The Farmer’s Wife is rarely the first film that comes to your mind when we think of Alfred Hitchcock. I own this movie, thanks to this nice DVD box set that my cousins (girls) gave to me for my birthday some years ago (three maybe). From The Lodger to Jamaica Inn, this box set contains a great deal of early British Hitchcock films.

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What I first like about The Farmer’s Wife is the fact that the story is very simple so it will be easy for me to tell it to you, in two or three sentences, what it’s all about. You know, I’m not good at resuming films. So, the story is about Samuel Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) a farmer who, after his wife’s death, desperately wants to get remarried. With the help of his young housekeeper, Araminta “Minta” (Lillian Hall-Davis), he makes a list of potential future wives. When he goes visiting them, the result is not the one he would have hoped for, until he realizes that the wisest solution is much more simple.

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The Farmer’s Wife was based on a play (itself based on a novel) that was staged no less than 1 400 times in London! In its interview with Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut notices that, even if it was based on a play, it’s a very cinematic film. Hitchcock agrees with him. Like they say, this is due to the very active role of the camera. This one really participates in the story. Unfortunately, Hitchcock was not very pleased with this film. He thought that he’d DONE the job, but not necessarily done it well.

The cast and crew
The cast and crew

If we compare it to another one of his silent films (The Lodger), The Farmer’s Wife is not Hitchcock’s most innovative work. It doesn’t have particularly interesting camera movements or things like that. However, in the same interview, Truffaut says to Hitchcock that the cinematography of this film makes him think of the one in F.W Murnau’s films and compares it to Sunrise‘s cinematography. That’s a good observation from Mr. Truffaut. I had never thought of it, but I’ve re-watched Sunrise not a long time ago and then The Farmer’s Wife and I agree with him. I perfectly know what he means. The fact that it also takes place in the country can make us think of this Murnau’s film. However, the stories are completely different. There’s something very poetic about this cinematographic style. The use of the light adds a certain softness to the film.

Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife
Hitchcock’s The Farmer’s Wife
Murnau's Sunrise
Murnau’s Sunrise

The main force of the film, and what makes it most appealing to me, is the cast. The two main actors are brilliant, just like the numerous supporting character actors. Lillian Hall Davis who plays Minta gives us what might be my favourite actress performance in a silent film. Her acting is very simple. She doesn’t exaggerate her emotions, but these are all perfectly transmitted to us. She gives a touching a sweet performance. If you’ve never seen this film, you’ll agree with me that she’s quite marvelous. Previously, Lillian Hall Davis had appeared in Hitchcock’s The Ring, which was a success on its release. Sadly, Davis’ career decreased with the coming of the talkies and, suffering from depression, she killed herself in 1938 at the age of 35. When you’ll see her performance in The Farmer’s Wife, you’ll feel very sad that such a lovely lady made an end to her life so abruptly.

Lilian Hall-Davis - The Farmer's Wife (1928) paper

Jameson Thomas, who plays the farmer, is very convincing too. What I especially liked about his acting were its several reactions. For example, when he’s upset, it’s quite funny. After all, this is a comedy. Lillian Hall Davis and Jameson Thomas’ chemistry in this film is a delight to watch. They make a real team and brilliantly complete each other.

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Finally, let’s take a look at the supporting cast. The first secondary actor we’ll notice is Gordon Harker who is cast as Churdles Ash, the Handyman. Ok, for those who have an interest for character actors, this one certainly has to be discovered. The comic side of this film is mainly embodied by him. He plays a grumpy man who turned out to be very funny despite him. Just look at the moment when he wears classy clothes: a hilarious disaster! The potential future wives are played by Maud Gill, Louise Pounds, Olga Slade, and Ruth Maitland. They all did a great job, but the most memorable one certainly is Maud Gill who perfectly performed her role of a tin, shy and frigid woman. She’s very convincing and her reaction when Jameson Thomas asks her to marry her worth a million.

Gordon Harker
Gordon Harker
 Maud Gill
Maud Gill

As I’ve studied screenwriting, this is always an aspect I pay attention to in a film. As I’ve said in the beginning, this one is well structured and there’s a good evolution. Some scene might be a little long but I’ve seen worst, believe me. As strange as it may seem, this film also contains some of my favourite intertitles, some very amusing lines. Here are some examples:

  1. Minta and Samuel are writing the list of potential future wives. He asks her to add Mary Hearn (Olga Slade) on the list. Minta makes him notice that she’s a little fat. To what he answers:

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… And she answers back:Capture d’écran 2015-10-20 à 14.11.272. Having finishing the list, Samuel says:

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3. Thirza Tapper’s housekeeper, Susan (Antonia Brough) comes in the living room, crying like a baby. Like this (poor girl):

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Because the ices she was preparing have melt. Her only argument is this:

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4. During an argument with Mary Hearn, this one asks Samuel:

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To what he answers:

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5. And later, being very mad at her, he tells her:

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So you can see, many humour in these dialogues.

I’ll finish this review by discussing the strangest element of this film: the music. Well, the music itself is not strange, it’s a typical orchestral classical music, a style that was often used in silent films. However, it doesn’t fit the movie AT ALL. As a matter of fact, this music is kind of dramatic and doesn’t reflect well the comic ambiance of the film. So, it’s kind of weird and somehow a little annoying. It fits for certain scenes, but for the major film, it doesn’t. We expect a more joyful music in a comedy.

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Well, The Famer’s Wife is one of those underrated and lesser-known Hitchcock’s films that certainly deserves to be discovered. It’s a movie with qualities and faults. It’s not a masterpiece, but it certainly is a nice entertainment. There’s nothing boring with this it and it’s a good one to watch when you’re not too much into deep psychological films. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, I hope I convinced you to do so.

I want to thank Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin for hosting this event. It certainly was a great idea and a lot of fun to participate. Of course, I invite you to take a look a the other entries! Just click on the link below:

Silent Cinema Blogathon

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