Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Farmer's Wife

Title: The Farmer's Wife
Year: 1928
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard
Source Material: From the play by Eden Phillpots
Running Time: 94 minutes
A Silent Picture in Black & White

Monday 5th July, 7:30pm/Tuesday 6th July, 6:30pm
Well, firstly, let me apologise for my rather stern review upon the last entry. I was a bit miserable about it, wasn't I? In hind-sight, I can see I was a bit harsh, but I was a little bit unwell that weekend and had to have an awful amount of sleep and the film was about boxing!! Nope, I can't let that pass, can I?
One day, I shall re-watch it and give it another trial.
Also, it is worth noting that I am a little late with this more recent review, but unlike some (more disciplined) bloggers, I am not committing myself to a strict time-frame and regime. What with work, social life, freelance duties and a Murder Party to orchestrate all at once, I can't weigh myself down with a strict code on when I have to write-up this project. It will be as and when I choose to do so.

At this point, I would also like to make another slight apology. It's about my style. No, I don't mean my rather inept fashion sense, I imply merely about my attempt at critique. Despite attending a course in media studies at university, I am not a scholar of mighty proportions. I cannot claim to be a voice of authority when it comes to the nature of film, not even one in the studies of Alfred Hitchcock. My love of his work is simply an adoration and this blog is, at its core, a small hobby for my own pleasure - although I don't mind at all if others get some sense of entertainment out of it, even if it is mockery.
So, I hope you do not expect great things and if you've been reading thus far, you will have experienced the manner and tone of my stream of consciousness prose.

This latest viewing had to be split over two nights as with these (Southern Hemisphere) winters, I become tired very early in the evening and have to retire to the comfort of my bed with a pathetic amount of resistance. This, however, does not make comment on this particular film, as you will see below...

Samuel Sweetland - Jameson Thomas
Araminta Dench - Lillian Hall-Davies
Churdles Ash - Gordon Harker
Henry Coaker - Gibb McLaughlin
Thirza Tapper - Maud Gill
Louisa Windeatt - Louie Pounds
Mary Hearn - Olga Slade
Mercy Bassett - Ruth Maitland
Susan - Antonia Brough
Dick Coaker - Haward Watts
Sibley Sweetland - Mollie Ellis

Applegarth Farm is home to Farmer Samuel Sweetland, his wife, Sibley, and their daughter, Susan. Sibley lies dying in her bed and her final words are spoken to their dutiful maid; “…and don’t forget to air your master’s pants, ‘Minta.”
Time passes and ‘Minta does as she is told and also manages to run the house efficiently and capably.
Soon it is Susan Sibley’s wedding day. She is marrying Samuel Sweetland’s friend’s son, Dick Coaker. Whilst the wedding party are off at the church, Araminta and Churdles Ash, the handyman chat amongst themselves. She is busy organising for the return of the party and Ash is merely lazing about dipping bread into the meat dripping when no one is looking. Churdles Ash is grumpy and cynical, especially about love.

“I’d seed the Master ‘ave ‘is eye on a woman or two of late. To see an old man in love be worse than seeing him with whooping cough!”

“Holy matrimony be a proper steam roller for flattening the hope out of a man and the joy out of a woman.”

The bride and groom return followed by the rest of the wedding party. The table is all laid ready for a feast, they say grace and begin their meal – speeches are made but the farmer is glum. He’s losing his daughter and has already lost his wife. He glances over to her old chair by the fire and remembers her wistfully.
The groom’s father, Henry Coaker makes a clear point in his speech;

“…and there be many here who have oft been wishful of a partner… …and the need of a strong man to lean against.

His eyes gesture toward three single women at the table.

During the festivities afterwards, Thirza Tapper asks Samuel if he will be attending her party later in the week. She also asks if she can borrow his staff to help serve. She says she has a spare livery that Ash can borrow to wear. Ash shows his displeasure at having to do so, but Sweetland agrees on his behalf anyway.
When all the guests have left, the farmer’s heart aches at the loss of his wife and the loneliness of his life. He envisions the speech his friend Henry had made and it inspires him. Checking himself in the mirror, he sees he still has what it takes to attract a woman. He addresses Araminta;

“I must take time by the forelock, ‘Minta, else I’ll be a lonely man soon. ‘Twas the late Tibby’s last wish that in the fullness of time I would take another… but she didn’t name no names.”

Araminta agrees and they decided to make a list of potential wives.

#1 Louisa Windeatt – “You know her back view’s not a day over thirty!” says Samuel. “But you have to live with her front view.” replies Araminta.

#2 Thirza Tapper (the one who invited him to the party later in the week.

#3 Mary Hearn. “I don’t mind they pillowy women… so long as they be pillowy in the right places.” says Sam. Araminta reminds him; “A woman that’s pillowy at thirty be after a feather bed at forty!”

#4 Mercy Bassett – Landlady of the Royal Oak – put down for luck.

Samuel is now a renewed man with extra vigour as he sets out on his goal.
His first goal is Louisa Windeatt and he rides his horse out to her farm.
He clumsily announces he is set to marry again and hints at her being his bride.

“I am not the sort of woman for you – I am far too independent.”

She laughs off his proposal and he becomes infuriated. He expected her to fall into his arms. The more angry he gets, the more she laughs at him. He eventually rides off in a tantrum.
Upon arriving home, he scribbles Louisa’s name off the list and it’s time for #2.

It’s the day of Thirza’s party. Araminta and Ash are helping out. ‘Minta is being as efficient as usual but Ahs is being as slovenly as usual.
Thirza is a stickler for punctuality and is thrown into a tizz when Samuel arrives early with a basket of plums. She isn’t even dressed yet and so hurries to fix her attire. When she finally descends, she finds Samuel being all smug. He keeps knocking things over in her orderly front room much to her distress. He bluntly asks her to marry him. She shakes and nearly hyperventilates and has to take a seat. He thinks he has her caught in his net, but she responds;

“…I shall never seek the shelter of a man’s arms – not even yours.”

He is apoplectic and goes into a fury. Thirza’s own maid enters in tears because she left the ice creams by the fire and they’ve all melted.. Samuel storms out. Whilst in the garden, he spies his third victim arriving – Mary. He has a change of mind and decides to stick around and ask her.

The party is getting into full swing and there are the glee-singers ready to perform outside, the parson and his wheelchair-bound mother and a whole host of other guests easting and drinking. While everyone else is outdoors enjoying the entertainment, Samuel beckons Mary to him and tackles her with his question.

Her response is not what he expected.

Mary: “You… you, at your age!”
Sam: “Well, you don’t want to marry a boy, do you?”
Mary: “Why not? ‘Tis a way with girls to marry boys, isn’t it?”
Sam: “Have you got the face to call yourself a girl?”
Mary: “What the mischief should I call myself, then?”
Sam: “Full blown and a bit over… that’s what I call you! The trouble with you is, you are too fond of dressing your mutton lamb fashion.”
Mary: “Is this a nightmare?”
Sam: “Your hat is!”

She becomes overtly hysterical and draws the crowd in from outside.
Samuel has failed again.

Back home again, Sam has had enough, he doesn’t think he’ll get a woman to marry him. He goes to leave but is in hearing shot of Ash as his handyman chatters to ‘Minta regarding his failed attempts at wooing the ladies.

“It’s a disgrace to us males that he can sink to go among ‘em hat in hand… only to be laughed at for his pains!”

Re-entering the parlour, he is powered up again by these words. And takes his horse out once again – this time to the Royal Oak. When he is gone, ‘Minta pictures herself in the wife’s chair by the fire…

At the Royal Oak, the place is packed with gentlemen ready for the foxhunt. Samuel has a brink with Mercy, but although she is chatty, she is already mocking him for being ‘in love’ and he doesn’t even pursue it. Meanwhile, Mary and Thirza are bickering at the post office over Samuel. Thirza is expressing her disapproval over Mary’s hysterics and Mary simply fires back insults – calling her a pinnicking little grey rat. Mary is fired up and ready to rethink Sam’s proposal. They bath hat-up and head to the farm.

Sam is once again home. He confides in Araminta.

Samuel: “’Tis all over, ‘Minta – I’m done for! Every time I’ve had to creep off with my tail between my legs. The whole power of the female sex be drawn against me. They have taken away my self respect.”
Araminta: “Don’t say that, Sweetland – I won’t hear a strong, sensible man talk like that. What be women made of nowadays?”
Samuel: “I’ve got a lot of faults, but there’s good in me yet, ‘Minta.”
Araminta: “’Tis enough to weaken your faith in the whole pack of us.”
Samuel: “You’d think being mistress of the farm might tempt them, if the farmer can’t!”

He visualises the four women sat in his late wife’s chair… then his vision is broken when Araminta sits down in it. He has an epiphany at last!

Samuel: “There is a woman… one woman…”

He goes to the list of scribbled out names and writes something on it. He hands Araminta the paper and she sees written at the top of the page ‘Minta’.
She is touched, surprised and a little drained, emotionally.

Samuel: “Don’t think you’ll make me angry if you say no – I be tamed to hearing ‘no’. I’m offering myself so humble as a worm... ….the Lord works the same as lightning and don’t give warning when He is going to wake sense in a man’s heart.”
Araminta: “I’ll be proud to enter in, Samuel…”

They are both finally happy. Ash is pleased with the decision as long as ‘Minta puts in a good word for a pay rise.
Thirza and Mary barge in. Mary has come to offer herself gladly to Samuel, but it is too late. He admits his new love and Mary once again has hysterics. Thirza is cool and polite and congratulates him.

Araminta has been upstairs and changed into something more formal. Samuel is proud at last. He announces;

“And if anybody knows a woman with a gentler heart and a straighter back and a nobler character, I’d like to see her!”

The End.

Great Lines
There are a number I have already quoted above, including the wonderful insults Sam fires at Mary Hearn, My favourite line is as follows, albeit a little incongruous… “Us be drawing turnips a’ready. Proper masterpieces – so round and white as a woman’s bosom!”

I wish I could have the time and energy to venture into the worlds of the source materials for all of Hitch's work. It would be fascinating to study the differences between the original plays/books etc. Of course, there are future examples where I can (Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Birds - yes, I'm a Daphne du Maurier fan too!) In this case, I can boast no such attempt as I have not seen any of these plays on which the films are based. This in mind, I cannot begin to guess which moments are touches of Hitchcock or merely great moments lifted directly from the play. It has been noted in other texts that Hitchcock was often requested to cut down on his use of dialogue cards in his silent films, but quite often it was almost impossible to do so. Although the action in The Farmer's Wife is very self-explanatory, there are a number of great pieces of dialogue which I imagine Hitch felt he could not do without (as detailed above).

Another comment would have to be about this monstrous myth some people spout regarding Hitchcock never doing 'comedy'. For one, he has a wonderful sense of humour - often black, but always funny - and in a number of films, he did superb comedy. Later in the run, we'll see a superb screwball comedy in Mr & Mrs Smith (nothing to do with "Brangelina" *shudder*).
Here, in The Farmer's Wife, he turns his hand to slapstick and farce during the tea party scene. Although some of it may look a little dated - trousers falling down, cumbersome wheelchairs and hysterical women - it was all par for the course in its day and Hitch pulls it off with great aplomb.

My favourite thing about this movie (apart from the performances) was the use of the farmer's late wife's chair. It's a constant throughout the movie illustrating kinship, familiarity and loss. When it is used as a theatre for his imaginations, it is at its most vulnerable, however by the end it is a beautifully romantic tool which eases 'Minta into the arms of Samuel. Effective, yet simple.

My Verdict
A much more entertaining film than his previous with, what I imagine is, great source material. The performances of our two leads (Thomas and Hall-Davies) are absolutely exquisite. Their range of emotions are delightful and prove how good you had to be in the early days of cinema where every thing had to be dealt and delivered with intricate performances in the face and body. These two leads are so good, we may not even have needed the dialogue cards.
I am giving this one 6/10 for pace, energy and those top-notch performances.

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