As a new soccer season gets underway, the Brits begin to obsess about player stats: how many passes, tackles, “assists” and so on. Statistics of a different kind featured in Charles Barr’s introductory notes* to this screening of the restored The Farmer’s Wife at the BFI.
He points out that some 10% of the shots in this film feature some sort of camera mobility as compared with 2-3% for The Lodger and less than 2% for Hitchcock’s previous film The Ring. Both films have more dramatic impact and better reputations: yet their directorial play-maker was on more cinematically-varied form for this entertaining romantic comedy.
|The wedding party|
Whilst showing the director’s debt to German cinema in general (and Murnau in particular), it also shows how quickly Hitchcock was beginning to develop his approach in what presents as a confident and well-made commercial feature with enough tricks and turns to still impress.
The restoration – superb as usual – obviously helps and the film looks pretty much as clear as it would have done on first showing. It is suffused with Hitchcock’s earthy humour and comes with a roster of quirky characters who run rings around the main protagonist and still, er, ring true.
So, if The Farmer’s Wife is Hitchcock playing it safe and going for commercial goals, he has a funny way of showing it…. and this is indeed one of the funniest silent films I’ve seen that’s not a straight-ahead comedy (most rom-coms being rather lacking in the “com” part…).
|Looking out in hope and back in... despair|
|A little list...|
|Jameson Thomas with Louie Pounds and Maud Gill|
Next is the shrew-like Thirza Tapper (Maud Gill) who tells the farmer that he is the first to pass her “sex test” in proposing marriage even though she has no ambitions in the matrimonial arena (another cold, asexual character?).
But surely, Sweetland can’t fail with the voluble Postmistress Mary Hearn (Olga Slade) who appeared more than friendly at his daughter’s reception. But it’s not to be, he’s far “too old” for her and she proceeds to laugh herself into hysterics, waiving her arms about in a childish frenzy.
|Olga Slade then Ruth Maitland|
Sweetland steals himself for one last try with Mercy Bassett the pub landlady (Ruth Maitland) and all seems to be going swimmingly as they chat away plying each other with drinks…
|The penny drops|
That’s not quite it but, needless to say Lovely Lovely-Lovely’s acting the moments of Minta’s own realisation are genuinely moving. It’s no surprise that Lillian was Hitchcock’s favourite actress, she is a graceful wonder who combined expert timing with controlled and nuanced expression: perfect for the medium.
Needless to say, Gordon Harker is also superb as the grotesquely curdled Churdles Ash – I felt like cheering every time he came on screen.
|Hurrah for Harker!|
No news on a DVD release but surely it’s coming. The version currently available from Studio Canal isn’t too bad, as you can see from some of the screen shots, but the restored version, like all of the others, is the one you simply must see.
*Taken from his book English Hitchcock (1999)