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The Farmer’s Wife

Ring a Ding Ding 

     Alfred Hitchcock entered the movie business essentially as soon as it started. He rose quickly in the British ranks to the director status and so it goes without saying he has a few silent movies under his belt. The Farmer’s Wife is among those early Hitchcock films that are essentially forgotten because it does not fall under the typical style we have come to associate with the master. This movie, one of many Hitchcock pieces that would be drawn from a stage play, is a comedy, nothing more. No suspense here, but that is not to say Hitchcock did not illustrate early on his adroit approach to this lighter genre.

     Farmer Sam Sweetland’s (Jameson Thomas) wife dies at the start of our picture and her final words are to the housemaid Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis) to remember to air out her master’s pants. Our next scene is of Minta helping Sam and his daughter prepare for the young girl’s wedding. We are introduced to a host of characters at the ensuing party and we hear the handyman Churdles (Gordon Harker) remark that with the daughter out of the house, Mr. Sweetland will be looking to remarry. From the film’s inception we see Minta as the perfect new wife for the man as she runs the household and takes care of his every whim already. It will, however, take the rest of the film for Sweetland to come to that conclusion.

     Sitting down with Minta, Sam crafts a list of four women he can picture sitting in his wife’s chair opposite him by the fireplace. First up is a widow, but she says she is too independent for the man, which leads Sweetland to curse her and forbid her visit his home again. The next is a virginal spinster to whom he proposes just before she is to host a party –at which Minta and Churldes are helping out– and the woman shivers and quakes from the shock. Again fuming, Sweetland lulls outside while the rest of the party guests arrive and Churdles struggles with some trousers that have no button to keep them on.

     While still at the party, Sweetland makes his move on a young, fat gal who insists he is to old for her. This leads him to spew a number of insults resulting in the woman screaming and flailing her limbs while the rest of the partygoers try to figure out her hysterics. Finally, Sweetland makes one last effort with a barmaid, but we do not see how that results before the man returns home. He has given up, but when Minta sits down in his wife’s chair, the chemistry finally clicks and the two happily agree to wed. Adding to the hilarity, however, are the middle two women to whom Sweetland had proposed –the virgin and the hysterical one– who upon arguing with each other about the proposals change their minds just to spite the other. They show up at the Sweetland home and the young one says she is willing to accept the proposal, to which Sweetland says he will announce his bride shortly, fooling her into thinking she has won. When Minta re-enters the scene in fine dress, that crazy one again screams and flails about.

     The Farmer’s Wife is really full of fine performances. The middle two potential mates Sweetland approaches are the source of much laughter, but Churdles as a baboon-like man is really essential to this movie’s comedic success. The only struggle I faced was in thinking that I would actually like the hotheaded Sweetland to end up with sweet Minta. He proves himself a royal ass in his reactions to rejection, but his manner of treating Minta at the close is endearing enough to make it work.

     Hitchcock was reluctant to take credit for early films like The Farmer’s Wife because he essentially just filmed a play. The script for this one was nearly word-for-word the successful stage production of the same name, and so Hitch even once said, “It was a routine job. A stage play with lots of titles instead of dialogue.” Those intertitles were in fact how Hitchcock got his start in films. He was an “captioneer” in 1920 and 1921 and would design the intertitles and embellish them with drawings. From there he moved up to “art director” in mid-1921. He would meet future wife Alma Reville during this early studio work, although she was more advanced than he at the time. She entered the profession in 1915 as an “assistant continuity girl” working on cutting the pieces of film together. She can often be found on the credits of Hitchcock’s earlier films as the person responsible for “continuity” and she was always listed by her maiden name. Alma was “floor secretary” or a first assistant director by the time Alfred entered the trade. It would be several years of seeing each other around the studios before they would begin to date.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan


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