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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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:
3. Thirza Tapper’s housekeeper, Susan (Antonia Brough) comes in the living room, crying like a baby. Like this (poor girl):
Because the ices she was preparing have melt. Her only argument is this:
4. During an argument with Mary Hearn, this one asks Samuel:
To what he answers:
5. And later, being very mad at her, he tells her:
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.
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: